Page 1

B

The

AFFLER NUII1.ber Six

DARK

AGE

Business Culture and the Culture Business

Why Johnny Can't Dissent page 5

ApostIes ol the New Entrepreneur page 69

The Advertised Lile page 145

IPlus Fiction hy James Kelmanl 67he .Journal That Blonts the CuUing Edge"


the law stares across the desk out of angry eyes his face reddens in splotches like a gobbler's neck with the strut of the power of submachineguns sawedoffshotguns teargas and vomitinggas the power that can feed you or leave you

to

starve

sits easy at his desk his back is covered he feels strong behind him he feels the prosecutingattorney the judge an owner himself the political boss the minesuperintendent the board of directors the president of the utility the manipulator of the holdingcompany he lifts his hand towards the telephone the deputies crowd in the door we have only words against -John Dos Passos, The Big Money


The Baftler Thomas Frank, Editor-in-Chief "Diamonds" Dave Mulcahey, Matt Weiland, Damon Krukowski, Angela Sorby, Contributing Editors Greg Lane, Engineer I Keith White, Publishing Strategist The Baffler thanks Matt Roth, Bill Boisverr, Ron Sakolsky, Ed Barry, Steve Laymon, Andrea Laiacona, Kevin Esterling, Rob Boatright, William B. Mollard, Carmen Marti, Vernon White (for inspiration), Rob Schrader, Christopher Holmes, Josh Mason,Wendy Edelberg, Allison True and David Futrelle for helping us find management texts, Temp Slave! for their wisdom about sabotage, and Daniel Raeburn, who suggested the line, "Are you insinuating something by not c-c'ing me on this?" We are especially grateful to everyone who sent in memos, documents, and management strategy tracts taken from work They were extremely helpful. We also thank the Illinois Arts Council for their supporr. We produced this Baffler in two gruelling weeks in November and December, 1994 in the offices of WHPK-FM. Diamonds pulled an unprecedented three-day non-stop editing streak and deserves special recognition. The Baffler (ISSN 1059-9789) is published by its editors in the South Side of Chicago. AI; it is produced without the benefit of any corporate help, it can be extremely difficult to find in stores. We recommend that anyone who enjoys our magazine buy a subscription. Send us $16 (add postage outside the U.S.); we'll send you the next four issues (a little more for libraries). This is a particularly good deal, since subscribers also receive various assorred Baffler stuff. Direct all correspondence to P. O. Box 378293, Chicago, IL 60637.

In the future The Baffler will be appearing more regularly. The next issue will feature excellent essays by Rick Perlstein, Daniel Harris, and Robert Nedelkoff, in addition to the continuing saga of Gedney Market and outrages by all the usual perpetrators. The selection from How Laft It Was, How Laft is copyright © 1994 by lames Kelman. "$$$$$: That's Publishing" is copyright © 1993 The Guardian. Everything else is copyright © 1995 The Baffler. Generallyspeakingit's OK for magazines with circulations under 1000 to reprint anything of ours they want; larger publicatiolU should write to w first. But if you're from a cultural conglomerate, please take note: we have gone and trademarked a number of favorite Baffler neologisms. These include "CuitureTrwt,"Th! "ConDev,"ThI "CorporareAntinomianism,""", and" AdvertisedLifc:."Th! You may nor use them without our permission. If you're Tim, magazine, you may not use them, period. Also, we have trademarked the word "Gedney,""" so don't name any of your kids that.

BAFFLER


NUtnberSix BUS NIESS C LTU IE DarkAge, Tom Frank, p. 5 The Killer App, Keith White, p. 23 Sony vs. IBM, Stephen Duncombe, p. 33 I Shall Be Released, Jesse Eisinger, p. 53 "How May I Serve You?'~ Paul Lukas, 61 Apostles of the New Entrepreneur, Bill Boisvert, p. 69 Soft City, Chicago, Seth Sanders, p. 157 What This Country Needs is a Leaderl Dave Mulcahey, p. 165

YUlE <CULTIJ IE B S NESS $$$$$: That's PublishinglJoanna Coles, p. 93 Henry Holt vs. Exact Chmzge, Damon Krukowski, p. 100 The Selling ofKatie Roiphe, Jennifer Gonnerman, p. 104 How Poetry Survives, Charles Bernstein, p. 114 Our Peg in Cultureburg, Maura Mahoney, p. 139 The Advertised Life, Tom Vanderbilt, p. 145

IF C DON Famous Men, Mike Newirth, p. 29 Clip-on Tie, David Berman, p. 42 Peeing on Polanski, Jamie Callan, p. 83 How Late It Was, How Late, James Kelman, p. 125

POE RY Charles Bernstein, p. 18 Charles Simic, p. 67 Rod Smith, p. 90 Margaret Young, p. 110 David Trinidad, p. 113 Steve Healey, p. 122 Joe Fodor, p. 138 Jennifer Moxley, p. 173

AR Don MacKeen, pp.4, 28 Patrick Welch, p. 30 Clay Butler, p. 66 Robin Hunicke, pp. 148, 153 Matt Roth, pp. 167, 187

BAFFLER路

3


Contributors Williams Rossa Cole, unwilling to prostitute himself, is cutrently seeking employment with a major media network. Joanna Coles is a correspondent for the Guardian in London. Jesse Eisinger is a reporter for Quick Nikkei News, a financial newswire in New York. Jennifer Gonnerman writes on city politics for the Village Voice, the New York Observer, Ms. magazine, and other publications. James Kelman was born in Glasgow in 1946. The author of many books, his latest novel, How Late It Was, How Late, won the Booker Prize this year. Some Recent Attacks, a collection of political essays, is available in the US from AK. Along with Naomi Yang, Damon Krukowski runs Exact Change Press in Boston and plays in Magic Hour, whose new record is out on Twisted Village. Jennifer Moxley lives in Providence, Rhode Island where she edits The Impercipient, an independent poetry magazine. Charles Simic's most recent book is Hotel Insomnia. Rod Smith has two books forthcoming, The Boy Poems (Buck Downs Books) and In Memory ofMy Theories (0 Books). He also edits the journal Aerial Tom Vanderbilt, a writer and cultural critic, was luted into The Baffler's New York offices by promises of cheap gin and a Park Avenue pied-a.-terre. Margaret Young is finishing a book ofessays called Fringe Kitchens. Recently she won a box of fishing lures in a raffle. Robust Matt Weiland just ordered you a pint of eighty shilling from down the bar. - )

...-

. ',/ ------ /~/~> f'K :f . /, : ;11 /

.

4路

BAFFLER

i

I

,I"

",


DARK AGE Why Johnny Can't Dissent Tom Frank 1. Wealth Against Commonwealth Revisited It was, indeed, the Age of Information, but information was not the precursor to knowledge; it was the tool of salesmen. - Earl Shorris, A Nation ofSalesmen In the United States, where political "change" means further enriching the already wealthy, and where political "dialogue" is an elaborate charade that excludes dangerous and difficult topics from public consideration, one must look to the literature of business to find serious talk about national affairs. Here, in publications like the Wall Street Journal, Advertising Age, and the steady stream of millennial tracts about the latest leadership practices, is where one hears the undisguised voice of the nation's ruling class grappling with the weighty affairs of state, raised in anguish over foreign competition, strategizing against its foes, proselytizing passionately for the latest management faiths, intoxicated with the golden promise of radical new marketing techniques. The jowly platitudes about "bipartisanship," "consensus," or "the center" that make up political commentary are thankfully absent: here all is philosophical realpolitik, the open recognition that the world belongs to the ruthless, the radical, the destroyer of all that has gone before. The great earth-stopping subject these days in business literature is the fantastic growth of the culture industry. The nation is advancing from the clunking tailfinand-ranch-house economy of the 1950s into a golden new hyper-consumerism, where ever-accelerating style and attitude fuel ever-more rapidly churning cycles of obsolescence; where the mall has long since replaced the office or the factory at the center of American life; where citizens are referred to as consumers; and where buying things is now believed to provide the sort of existential satisfaction that things like, say, going to church once did. And culture, once the bane of the philistine man ofcommerce, stands at the heart of this vital new America. No longer can any serious executive regard TV, movies, magazines, and radio as simple "entertainment," as frivolous leisure-time fun: writing, music, and art are no longer conceivable as free expressions arising from the daily experience of a people. These are the economic dynamos of the new age, the economically crucial tools by which BAFFLER路

5


the public is informed of the latest offerings, enchanted by packaged bliss, instructed in the arcane pleasures ofthe new, taught to be good citizens, and brought warmly into the consuming fold. Every leader of business now knows that the nation's health is measured not by production of cars and corn but by the strength of its culture industry. Nightly business programs routinely discuss the latest boxoffice receipts with the utmost gravity; France is threatened with trade war over its protectionist cinema policy; the Wall Street Journal publishes long special reports on what used to be naively called "the entertainment industry." The shift has been a gigantic one, altering even the way we appreciate the world around us. Those things we used to read about in the quaintly eccentric books of post-structuralist theory have become facts of everyday life, the triumph of "the image" over "reality" promoted from 'fascinating abstraction' to a simple matter of 'profit and loss.' We have entered what the trade papers joyfully call the "Information Age," in which culture is the proper province of responsible executives, the minutiae that were once pondered by professors and garret-bound poets having become as closely scrutinized as daily stock prices. Guided as ever by that all-knowing invisible hand, the business "community" has reacted to the new state of affairs in an entirely predictable manner, rapidly erecting a Culture Trust of four or five companies (This just in! Spielberg and Geffen have started their own studio! That makes six!) whose assorted vicepresidents now supervise almost every aspect of American public expression. Business ideologists speculate wildly about the potential for "synergy" when "content providers" join forces with "delivery systems." Time-Warner unites the nation's foremost mass-cultural institutions under one corporate roof; Sony now produces the movies and recordings you need to make your Sony appliances go; a host of conglomerates battle over Paramount, then over CBS; Disney casts about for its own TV network; Rupert Murdoch acquires an international publishing and broadcasting empire bringing him cultural power undreamed of by bush-leaguers like William Randolph Hearst. Culture can now be delivered cleanly and efficiently from creator to consumer, without the static or potential for interference posed by such vestiges ofantiquity as bolshevik authors, strange-minded artists, local accents, or stubborn anomalies like that crotchety old editor in the MCI "Gramercy Press" commercials who doesn't know how to work his voice-mail. The entire process of cultural production is being modernized overnight, brought at long last out of the nineteenth century and placed in the hands of dutiful business interests. With the consolidation of the Information Age has come a new class of executives, a consumerist elite who deal not in production and triplicate forms, but in images. Management theorist and pseudo-historian Peter Drucker calls them "Knowledge Workers," Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has dubbed them "symbolic analysts," but the term applied to them by the nation's highest-ranking asskisser, Vanity Fair, in its recent "Special Report" on the handful of luminous fabulosities who head up the Culture Trust, seems more appropriate: "The New

6路

BAFFLER


Establishment." Learn to revere them, the magazine wetly counsels its readers, for they are the new Captains ofIndustry, the Titans of the future, "a buccaneering breed of entrepreneurs and visionaries, men and women from the entertainment, communications, and computer industries, whose ambitions and influence have made America the one true superpower of the Information Age." As Americans were once taught to regard the colossal plunderings of Rockefellers and Carnegies with patriotic pride, we are now told to be thankful for this "New Establishment": it is, after all, due to figures like Murdoch, Geffen, Eisner, and Turner (memorize these names, kids) that the nation has been rescued from the dead end of "militaryindustrial supremacy" and restored to the path of righteousness, "emerging as an information-and-entertainment superpower." These great men have struggled their way to the top, not just to corner the wheat market, buy up all the railroads between here and New York, or bribe the odd state legislature, but to fabricate the materials with which the world thinks. As its products steadily become the nation's chief export, the Culture Trust further rationalizes its operations through vertical integration, ensuring its access to the eternal new that drives the machine by invading the sanctum of every possible avant-garde. Responsible business newspapers print feature stories on the nation's hippest neighborhoods, how to navigate them and what treasures might be found there. Sober TV programs air segments on the colorful world of"zines"; ad agencies hire young scenesters to penetrate and report back on the latest "underground" doings. Starry-eyed college students are signed up as unpaid representatives of record conglomerates, eager to push product, make connections, and gain valuable experience on the lower rungs of the corporate ladder; while music talent scouts, rare creatures once, are seen everywhere prospecting for the cultural fuel that only straight-off-the-street 'tude can provide. Believing blithely in the fabled democracy of the marketplace, the objects of this cultural speculation are only too happy to cooperate, never quite realizing that the only reliable path to wealth in the "entertainment" business starts with a Harvard MBA. And as every aspect of American cultural production is brought safely into the fold, business texts crow proudly of the new technologies which promise to complete the circle of corporate domination. The delivery of such eagerly-awaited gloriosities as "interactive media" and "virtual reality," it is hoped, will open vast uncharted regions of private life to business colonization, will reorganize human relations generally around an indispensable corporate intermediary. Business writers understand that the great promise of the Information Age is not that average consumers will soon wake up to the splendor of 100 high-res channels, but that every imaginable type of human relationship can now be reduced to digital and incorporated into the glowing televisual nexus-brought to you by Pepsico, of course. What reformed adman Earl Shorris has written of the early promise of TV may finally be accomplished in the near future: "Reality did not cease to exist, of course, but much of what people understood as reality, including virtually all of the BAFFLER路

7


So much of the best independent rock music these days is concerned, at least in part, with the menacing new power of the cultural conglomerates that one would expect rock criticism to give a fair hearing to popular discontent wih the state of American culture. After all, rock critics present themselves to the public as connoisseurs of cultural dissent, explicators of rebellion, American-style. But one would expect wrong. The primary impulse of mainstream rock criticism today is not to make-or even repeat-the punk rock case against Big Media, but to deny it at every opportunity, to insist on a sort of offended formalism: how could anyone suggest that a critic of musicMusic!-take into account any criteria other than the immediate sounds themselves? The rise of the Culture Trust just isn't a problem for most such critics: it's viewed as an unremarkably natural part of the rock' n' roll process. Rock is show business. That's all. What needs to be denounced are not those oily, omnipresent reps from Geffen, Atlantic, and Sony, but those relatively powerless kids who attempt to stand outside the process. No doubt the nation's official rock critics would prefer to simply ignore the annoying noises on the margins, to reserve their prose for the safe, press-kitted grounds of corporatesponsored rebellian--ofter all, this is what they did for years without disturbance. But now that the music industry has settled on â&#x20AC;˘alternative" as its lifestyle product of choice, the

8â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER

commercial world, was mediated by television. It was as if a salesman had been placed between Americans and life." TV is no longer merely "entertainment," it is on the verge of becoming the ineluctable center of human consciousness, the site of every sort of exchange. As the Information Revolution proceeds the myths, assumptions, and folklores of business become the common language of humanity; business culture becomes human culture. Working and consuming from our houses, wired happily into what Harper's magazine has called the "electronic hive," we will each be corporate subjects-consumers and providers of" content"-as surely as were the hapless industrial proletarians of the last century. Granted, few things in recent memory have been as over-promoted as "synergy" and the "information superhighway." But for all the hollow boosterism, for all the anglo-tincted squealings of that child on TV who equates MCI with God, the changes are real and they are vast, unimaginable. As Richard Turner wrote recently in the Wall Street Journa4 "Don't let all the blather fool you, because this much is clear: A sea change is coming in communications, information and entertainment. And in some measure, it's already here." The most intriguing aspect of these developments is not the unprecedented magnitude of cultural power being amassed by American business, but the singular imbalance between the size of the change and the comparative silence of protesting voices. Certainly the putatively 'conservative' politics of the nation's powerful Right does not include suspicion of vast cultural upheavals like this one, provided that responsible business interests are safely in charge (one can imagine their outrage were the government to assume comparable powers). From mainstream journals that dare to allow themselves an opinion, the only view one is likely to hear is the ecstatic proclamation that the rise of the Culture Trust heralds, perversely, a newfound cultural democracy. Not only are the guys who are taking charge of the American cultural economy a bunch of existential individualists-what with their jet airplanes, fabu-


lous homes, virtual offices, and muscular celebrity friends-but the system they're setting up will allow ever-so-desirable sounds and laoks each one of us to be exotic, VR game-playing rebels as of independent rock ~ust be severed well. With computers we'll be able to talk to people who from the cultur,al-pohtlcal baggage are far away! And with the miracle of "interactive," it is that ~ccompanled them through the ' d , we WI'II at Iast be abl e to t alk bac k to those b'Ig prevIous It has fallen beIIeve k 't' decade, t h t to'htheb ," 'II b ' roc en ICS 0 suppress w a mig t e medIa guys, Consumers WI e constructmg what called the "indie heres" k' h' , " h' V;' F.' "y d y, pun s ester ay, we hostility to and suspicion of corporate t ey re gettmg, c Irps antfJt mr, changed the channel; today we hIt the remote; tomorrow, media (which almost every we'll reprogram our agentslfilters," sings Wired magazine, commentator agrees to be among its in between the latest cyber-advertising and little editorial central activating principles), to root epiphanies about the most expensive new consumer goods, out and dismiss the dangerous "We'll interact with advertising where once we only thoughts, watched; we'll seek out advertising where once we avoided ~ric ~eisbard's ~engthy , it," Since letters to the editor can now be electronic it medltallon on the rise of alternative seems the obvious and unavoidable dangers that co:ne rock, which appeared last summer in ' ' human I'lIe C the tVillage Voicert~ is typical WI'th rearrangmg around the cuItural nee dSfO ' Ass th tthof this 11' , '''S' "d " opera lon, e IRg a e ' bus~ness are, we , mSIgn1r1~ t, mc: emoc~acy means appearance of the •Alternative" havm~ more ~nsumer chOICes, and mformatIon technol- format signals a new openness ogywtll vastly mcrease the power of our channel changers, among the majar labels, Weisbard hey presto! More democracy! berates the die-hard adherents af The Baffler humbly asks anyone who believes this independent rock for their reluctance argument-that business is building as costly a system to "seize the day," to recagnize that as "interactive" in order to reduce its power over view- the repressive 80s are aver and that ers-to contrast the hastiness with which the Culture we have somehow stumbled into a Trust is bringing this particular technology to market time of radical social progress, "a with the strange (and strangely unremarked) unavail- Clintonian era where power is there for the taking." Even though he ability of consumer CD-recording technology (which clearly understands thallhe defining is available to "professional" radio engineers and such- characteristic of the indie 80s was like), devices which, if accessible to everyone, would "resistance to mass culture," forever ground the soaring prices of Microsoft shares as Weisbard insists that now such well as David Geffen's much-admired private jet, resistance, is-not'doubly But still one is surprised by the quiet, Years ago meaningful,' not'deeply trenchant,' Americans viewed similar instances of such rapid and not'prescient in the most valuable complete concentration of economic power into so few sort of way'-no longer necessary. hands with alarm, Democratic sensibilities were of- Anyone wha refuses to snap up the fended by the prospect of an entire region's or class's various benefits offere~ by the impoverishment for the benefit of a small ring of Culture Trust-<elebrlty, MTV, , , 'bl b d h appearances on Leiterman, nice compames, Corporate arrogance mvana y re , t e synth et'IC product'Ion, an d Iucrat'Ive , ,, outrage~ ~and vaned) pOI1tIC~ r~sponses ofPopultsm, contracts-is just a bad businessProgresslVlsm,Anarcho-SyndicalIsm, and the New Deal, man and a traitor to the progressive Today, ofcourse, the situation is very different, and ' BAFFLER·

9


movement as well. The great problem facing rock music, according to Weisbard, his colleagues in Spin, Rolling Stone, Sassy, and at almost every other point along the mass-hip spectrum, is not the prospect of the culture industry using the sounds and images of opposition to rejuvenate its sagging fortunes, but a "fatalistic marginality" inherent in the indie heresy's suspicion of big media. In other words, the true radicalism of American show business is somehow being undermined by the reluctance of a handful of marginal figures to accept the Culture Trust's benevolence, to realize that the industry has reformed, to stop complaining and get in the game. Whereas punk rockers had once been universally shunned in major media as menacing thugs (a characterization common on primetime TV programs right up until the Nevermind moment), now they are said to exhibit the opposite vices: they are over-saintly, unrealistically pure, elitist party-poopers who want to keep all the fun for themselves. The excesses of this Inquisition have been amusing in their intoxicated stretching: caught up in the joyous frenzy of inquisition, for example, a great number of critics in different parts of the coutry simultaneausly came up with the theory that the suicide of Kurt Cobain was somehow attributable to the anti-corporate puritanism of his nefarious indierock friends. But the most immediately striking feature ofthe rock critics' kulturkampfis its one-sidedness.

10 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER

very strange. No social group is more audibly or visibly 'radical' than artists, musicians, and writers, and with the rise of the Culture Trust capitalism seems to have elevated these malcontents to positions of power and responsibility. And just think of the results: now we are sold cars by an army ofearringed, dreadlocked, goateed, tattooed, and guitar-bearing rebels rather than the labcoated authority figures of the past. But even while we live in time in which ostentatious displays of rebellion are celebrated and admired as much as the building of grandiose imitations of Versailles and the burning of hundred-dollar-bills were once, we are constantly reminded of their meaninglessness, their irrelevance to questions of actual power. For all our radical soda pops, our alternative lifestyles, and the uninhibited howls of our hamburger stands, we seem to have no problem with the fact of business control over every aspect of public expression. Even as we proclaim ourselves a nation of credit-limit rebels, prepared to drive our Saabs "in the face of convention," we are incapable of raising even the feeblest material challenge to business's assumption of near-absolute cultural power. We are left, glassy-eyed and numb, to choose between the various corporate accounts of media takeovers. This is not to imply that no one has noticed the dangers of the Information Revolution or that direct assaults on the aesthetic and economic basis of the Culture Trust have not taken place. It is to point out, simply, that the dominant intellectual tendency of our time-in a strange complement to the prevalence of ersatz rebellion everywhere on TV-is to confront not the power of the media but those who dare to criticize it. In academia, where proclamations of "cultural radicalism" are routine, we observe the consolidation of "Cultural Studies," a pedagogy that seems tailor-made for the intellectual needs of the Culture Trust. Beginningwith the inoffensive observation that an audience's reception of a given culture-product is important and unpredictable, Cultural Studies proceeds to assert that the facts of corporate cultural production are therefore utterly irrelevant, that David Geffen and Madonna are exactly as cool as Vanity Fair says they are (but for


different reasons, dude), and to new ways to apply the label "elitist" to people who don't like TV. Its rise to promInence, as Herbert Schiller noted a while ago, coincides The voices of official hip stand perfectly with the Information Revolution, both tem- unified in their condemnation of residual indie mass-cult mistrust, but porally and ideologically: The power of the Western cultural industries is more concentrated and formidable than ever; their outputs are more voluminous and widely circulated; and the transnational corporate system is totally dependent upon information flows. Yet the prevailing interpretation sees media power as highly overrated and its international impact minimal .... Its usefulness to existing power is obvious. Rock music is a case in point: though Cultural Studies is overwhelmingly concerned with what is called "The Popular," a thorough reading of its leading books, journals, and anthologies turns up few references to independent rock music ("punk rock," by the way, is understood to have been a curious phenomenon of the late 70s that vanished soon afterwards) or non-corporate publications like, say, ForcedExposureor Maximum Rocknroll. Although these are "popular" works in the true sense of the word, they tend to take far too hostile

where does one turn to hear the heresy that merits such strident refutation? No high-power radio stations will play the offending records, nor can they be found in any collection to which the public has access. No libraries carry the handful of zines that question the aesthetic uprightness of the Culture Trust. The offending sentiment is almost completely invisible, limited to small, powerless publications and the products of financially marginal record campanies. So in one sense at least the official critics are doing the indie heresy a favor, documenting the anti-corporate feeling that they seek to suppress instead of allowing it to wither away from inattention. The attitudes that so annoy them BAFFLER路

11


may have received no expression in any of the offidal annals of American cubure, but one can imagine future social historians using these outraged articles as a means of proving that there was something going on outside the corporate monotone during the late 20th-century; just look at their efforts to stamp it out. Certainly this school of writers would never identify themselves as upholders of the American power structure, much less as ns cultural Inquisitors. No doubt they think of themselves as standard-bearers, not suppressers, of insurgent culture; foes, not servants of The Man. No doubt their conscious intentions are perfectly honorable: they simply aim to redirect what they perceive to be a misguided movement back along the paths of true revolutionary righteousness. But in so doing they illustrate the basic problem fadng cultural dissent in the ulnformation Age": our standard ideas of how cultural rebellion is to be done are obsolete. They have no connection to the new fads of cultural power. Weisbard, for example, concludes his article by invoking the names of those hallowed cultural revolutionaries that today's indie-rockers, constrained by their hostility to cultural populism,' can never duplicate: they must accommodate themselves to the major labels, otherwise their music just Swon't upset the applecarts of cultural hierarchy the same way ndid with Presley or the Stones.' Stones? Rolling Stones? What, is cultural hierarchy' a brand of beer in competition with Budweiser? U

U

12路

BAFFLER

a view of the Culture Trust-the only" reading," apparently, that "the people" aren't supposed to undertake. Therefore, they might as well not exist. Only corporate culture deserves to be considered, lauded over and over again for the ways in which this sitcom empowers that subaltern, this rock video questions that hierarchy. This blindness towards anything but the products of the Culture Trust makes the prognosis of one of its academic opponents more apt: Globalisation ... means that (high added-value) cultural production is increasingly important to advanced economies so that an increased proportion of jobs are found in the cultural sector. Cultural studies prepares students for these jobs. It also prepares them to become good consumers of increasingly sophisticated cultural industries. To judge TV programs from the top down by some rigid, pre-existing standard, Cultural Studies argues, is a serious intellectual offense. But just a mention of the more critical media theories of, for example, the Frankfurt School, is enough to send these self-proclaimed avatars of popular resistance into a fury of denunciation. Suddenly a different system of values seems to apply. Here one finds no finenesses of "negotiated readings," no hints of that liberating potential just beneath the text's surface: that particular reading is not OK; those who denounce the offerings of the Culture Trust ~re just plain wrong.

II Serious Attitude Adjustment: The Rise of Corporate Antinomianism The public be damned! I work for my stockholders. -William H. Vanderbilt, 1879 Break the rules. Stand apart. Keep your head. Go with your heart. - TV commercial for Vanderbilt perfume, 1994 The American economy may be undergoing the most dramatic shifts in this century, but for the past thirty years people in music, art, and culture generally


have had a fixed, precise notion of what's wrong with American life and the ways in which the responsible powers are to be confronted. It is a preconception shared by almost every magazine, newspaper, TV host, and rock star across the "alternative" spectrum. And it is the obsolescence and exhaustion of this idea of cultural dissent that accounts for our singular inability to confront the mind-boggling dangers of the Information Age. The patron saints of the countercultural idea, which for convenience is what we'll call this now-standard way of understanding power and resistance, are, of course, the Beats, whose frenzied style and merry alienation still maintain a powerful grip on the American imagination. Even forty years after the publication of On The Road, the works ofKerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs remain the sine qua non of dissidence, the model for aspiring poets, rock stars, or indeed anyone who feels vaguely artistic or alienated-in other words, for everyone. That frenzied sensibility of pure experience, life on the edge, immediate gratification, and total freedom from moral restraint which the Beats first propounded back in those heady days when suddenly everyone could have their own TV and powerful V-8, has stuck with us through all the intervening years andbecome something of a permanent American aesthetic, an official style of the consumer society. Go to any poetry reading in New York or Chicago and you can see a string of junior Kerouacs go through the routine, "upsetting cultural hierarchies" by pushing themselves to the limit, straining for that beautiful gasp as the nonexistent bourgeoisie recoils in shock, struggling to recapture that gorgeous moment of original vice when Allen Ginsberg first read "Howl" in 1955. The Gap may have since claimed Ginsberg and USA Today may run feature stories about the brilliance of Kerouac, bur here the rebel race continues, with ever-heightening shit-references calculated to scare Jesse Helms, talk about sex and smack that is supposed to bring the electricity of real life, and ever-more determined defiance of the repressive rules and mores of the American 1950s-rules and mores which by now we know only from movies. The verdict of the Beats is the centerpiece of the countercultural idea to which we still ascribe such revolutionary potential: the paramount ailment of our society is conformity, a malady that has variously been described as over-organization, bureaucracy, homogeneity, hierarchy, logocentrism, technocracy, the Combine, the Apollonian. We all know what it is and what it does. It transforms humanity into "organization man," into "the man in the gray flannel suit." It is "Moloch whose mind is pure machinery," the "incomprehensible prison" that consumes "brains and imagination." It is artifice, starched shirts, tail fins, carefully mowed lawns and always, always the consciousness of impending nuclear destruction. It is a stiff, militaristic order that seeks to suppress instinct, to forbid sex and pleasure, to deny basic human impulses and individuality, to enforce through a rigid uniformity a meaningless plastic consumerism. As this half of the countercultural idea originated during the 1950s, it is appropriate that the evils of conformity are most conveniently summarized with BAFFLER路

13


images of 1950s suburban correctness. You know, that land of church-goers, tailfins, red-scares, smiling white people, lines of commuters, sedate music, sexual repression. An America of uptight patriarchs, friendly cops, buttoned-down collars, B-47s, and deference to authority-the America of such backward-looking creatures as Jerry Falwell. Constantly appearing as a symbol of arch-evil in advertising and movies, it is an image we find easy to evoke. Picking up at random a recent Utne Reader, for example, one finds an article which seeks to question the alternative ness of coffee by reminding the reader of its popularity during that cursed decade: "According to history-or sitcom reruns-" the author writes, "the '50s were when Dad tanked up first thing in the morning with a pot of java, which set him on his jaunty way to a job that siphoned away his lifeblood in exchange for lifelong employment, a two-car garage, and Mom's charge card." The correct response: What a nightmare! I'll be sure to get my coffee at a hip place like Starbuck's. The ways in which this system are to be resisted are equally well understood and agreed-upon. The Establishment demands homogeneity; we revolt by embracing diverse, individual lifestyles. It demands self-denial and rigid adherence to convention; we revolt through immediate gratification, instinct uninhibited, and liberation of the libido and the appetites. Few have put it more bluntly than Jerry Rubin did in 1970, "Am erika says: Don't! The yippies say: Do It!" The countercultural idea is hostile to any law and every establishment. "Whenever we see a rule, we must break it," Rubin continued. "Only by breaking rules do we discover who we are." Above all rebellion consists of a sort of Nietzschean antinomianism, an automatic questioning of rules, a rejection of whatever social prescriptions we've happened to inherit. Do Your Own Thing is the whole of the law. But one hardly has to go to a poetry reading to see the countercultural idea acted out, for its frenzied ecstasies have long since become the official aesthetic of consumer society, the monotheme of mass culture as well as adversarial culture. Turn on the TV and there it is instantly: the unending drama of Consumer Unbound and in search of an ever-heightened good time, the inescapable rock en' roll soundtrack, dreadlocks and pony tails bounding into Taco Bells, a drunken, camera-swinging epiphany of tennis shoes, outlaw soda pops, and mind-bending dandruff shampoos. For corporate America no longer speaks in the voice of oppressive order that it did when Ginsberg moaned in 1956 that Time magazine was always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious. Movie producers are serious. Everybody's serious but me. Today nobody wants to appear serious. Fox, Disney, and Time/Warner, the nation's economic standard-bearers, are also now the ultimate leaders of the Ginsbergian search for kicks upon kicks. Corporate America is not an oppressor but a sponsor of fun, provider oflifestyle accoutrements, facilitator of carnival, trusted

14路 BAFFLER


ally of the people, our slang-speaking partner in the search for that ever-more apocalyptic orgasm. The countercultural idea has become capitalist orthodoxy, its hunger for transgression upon transgression, change for the sake of change, now perfectly suited to an economic-cultural regime that runs on ever-faster cyclings of the new; its taste for self-fulfillment and its intolerance for the confines of tradition now permitting vast latitude in consuming practices and lifestyle experimentation. For consumerism is no longer about "conformity" but about "difference." Advertising teaches us not in the ways of puritanical self-denial (a bizarre notion on the face of it), but in orgiastic, never-ending self-fulfillment. It counsels not rigid adherence to the tastes of the herd but vigilant and constantly-updated individualism. We consume not to fit in, but to prove, on the surface at least, that we are rock 'n' roll rebels, each one of us as rule-breaking and hierarchy-defying as our heroes of the 60s, who now pitch cars, shoes, and beer. This imperative of endless difference, not that dread "conformity," is the genius at the heart of American capitalism, the eternal fleeing from "sameness" that gives us a thirst for the New and satiates it with such achievements of civilization as the infinite brands of identical cola, the myriad colors and irrepressible variety of the cigarette rack at 7-11. Capitalism has changed dramatically since the 1950s, but our understanding of how it is to be resisted hasn't budged. As existential rebellion has become the more or less official style ofInformationAge capitalism, so has the countercultural notion of a static, repressive Establishment grown hopelessly obsolete. However the basic impulses of the countercultural idea may (and that's a big "may") have disturbed a nation lost in Cold War darkness, they are today in fundamental agreement with the basic tenets ofInformation Age business theory. So close are they, in fact, that it has become impossible to understand the countercultural idea as anything more than the self-justifying ideology of the new dominant class that has arisen since the 1960s, the cultural means by which this group has proven itself ever so much better skilled than its slow-moving, security-minded forebears at adapting to the accelerated, always-changing consumerism of today. The anointed cultural opponents of capitalism are now capitalism's ideologues. The two come together in perfect synchronization in a figure like Camille Paglia whose annoying ravings are grounded in the absolutely non-controversial ideas of the golden Sixties. According to Paglia, American business is still exactly what it was believed to have been in that beloved decade, that is, "puritanical and desensualized." Its great opponents are, of course, liberated figures like "the beatniks", Bob Dylan, and the Beades (needless to say, while Paglia proclaims herself a great fan of rock music, bands like Shellac, Slant 6, and the Subhumans never appear as recipients of her praise). Culture is, quite simply, a binary battle between the repressive Apollonian order of capitalism and the Dionysian impulses of the counterculture. Paglia thus validates the central official myth of the "Information Age," for rebellion makes no sense without repression; we must remain forever convinced of capitalism's fundamental hostility to pleasure in order BAFFLER路

15


to consume capitalism's rebel products as avidly as we do. It comes as little surprise when, after criticizing the "Apollonian capitalist machine" in her new book, Paglia applauds American mass culture (in that same random issue of Utne Reader), the pre-eminent product of that "capitalist machine," as a "third great eruption" of a Dionysian "paganism." For her, as for most other designated dissidents, there is no contradiction between replaying the standard critique of capitalist conformity and repressiveness and then endorsing its rebel products-for Paglia the car culture and Madonna-as the obvious solurion: the Culture Trust offers both Establishment and Resistance in one convenient package. The only question that remains is why Paglia has not yet landed an endorsement contract from a soda pop or automobile manufacturer. Other legendary exponents of the countercultural idea have been more fortunate. William S. Burroughs, for example, appears in a television spot for the Nike corporation. Bur so openly does the commercial flaunt the confluence of capital and counterculture that it has aroused considerable criticism. Writing in the Village Voice, Leslie Savan wonders what it means when a Beat goes Bad. The contradiction between Burroughs's writings and the faceless corporate entity for which he is now pushing product is so vast, she believes, that one can do little more than marvel at the digestive powers of capital. "Now the realization that nothing threatens the system has freed advertising to exploit even the most marginal elements ofsociety," Savan observes. "In fact, being hip is no longer quite enoughbetter the pitchman be 'underground.'" While Burroughs's manager insists, as all future Cultural Studies treatments of the ad will also insist, that Burroughs's presence makes the commercial "deeply subversive"- "I hate to repeat the usual mantra, but you know, homosexual drug addict, manslaughter, accidental homicide"-Savan wonders whether, in fact, it is Burroughs who has been assimilated by corporate America. "The problem comes," she writes, "in how easily any idea, deed, or image can become part of the sponsored world." The most startling revelation to emerge from the Burroughs/Nike partnership is not that corporate America has overwhelmed its cultural foes or that Burroughs can somehow remain "subversive" through it all, but the complete lack of dissonance between the two sides. Of course Burroughs is not "subversive," but neither has he "sold out": his ravings are no longer appreciably different from the official folklore of American business. As expertly as he once bayoneted American proprieties, as stridently as he once proclaimed himself beyond the laws of man and God, Burroughs is today a respected ideologue of the Information Age. His writings are boardroom favorites, his dark nihilistic burpings the happy homilies of the new corporate faith. For with the assumption of power by Drucker's and Reich's new class has come an entirely new ideology of business, a way of justifying and exercising power that has absolutely nothing to do with the "conformity" and the "establishment" so continued on page 174

16 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


A Suggestion

H

ave you had difficulty in securing from the

newsstands your copy of THE BAFFLER? Many readers have. So great is the demand that all past issues (except a few of number two) are completely sold out. While we are endeavoring to meet this demand, we cannot afford to reprint past issues, and our distribution can never be sufficiently large to serve the entire reading public. If you wish to be assured of receiving each issue of THE BAFFLER please mail us a check for $16.00 for the next four issues. We keep our subscribers up-to-date on BAFFLER developments, and well-stocked in BAFFLER stuff.

If you are already a subscriber, you can insure yourself against your copy being borrowed by that enthusiastic friend by giving her this information and suggesting she subscribe.

The subscription rate is $16.00 (U.S.)for four'issues. Foreign subscriptions must add appropriate postage.

THE BAFFLER, Box 378293, Chicago, IL 60637

BAFFLER路

17


Residual Rubbernecking Press the key you wish to define now. Later, outside, you can say the slosh is softer this year, or mercy loops its own trail, mucking through the triumphant pillars of mastery - moment's solace, forfeiture's plenitude. I'd wave my hand maybe four or five times before noticing that I was asleep, cascading in the blue mist far from the sash and saddle of another march down the selfsame street, the paddy without wagon that hoes its emblematic embrace. Far, too, from the fissure in the cracks of what determines our reconciliation (lubricious assimilation of convocation). The stick no longer mangles its allure, if not justification, which scrambles a little faster every time you lunge to grab it. Enough for now, or the now that yesterday promised, mobbed by angles, abandoned to insistence. â&#x20AC;˘ - Charles Bernstein

18 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


~

if))

semiotics mailbag

Responses by Theophile, translated by Hypatia Sanders

Dear Theophile: I went to the trade show with one of each of Magnus Bredenbek's 41 classic types of business leader: a Facilitor, a Blamer, a Denier, an Opportunist, a Passive-Prevaricator, an Aggressive-Prevaricator, a TerroristicTruculent, a Terroristic Manipulator, an Anal-Aggressive, plus the 32 sub-types of Anal-Passive discussed by LeBlanc and accepted by Bredenbek. So, Theophile: guess which guy pulled the best? Hit me again, chump. That one was strictly from the mailroom. To sense the diagrammatic flow of Management in which we are all inscribed, you need to first know the true Forms ofManagment. In reality, there are 80 types of business leader, a fact known since Late Antiquity, and first referenced in the literature by the great Heresiologist and vicious Ecclesiastical-political infighter, St. Epiphanius of Salamis (an early activist in the "Teams" movement!). Of course, St. Epiphanius's work needs to be updated for the modern Business Managment Handbook market, a project which I am currently undertaking. Some of Epiphanius' quaint notions have to bite the dust. Others simply need to be reinscribed on the body of Twentieth-

Century Private Enterprise. Empower yourself with a 5-minute-management session; you will want to use the Greek text of K. Holl in the Griechische Christliche Schriftsteller (GCS) series, available at Waldenbooks or order by Fax. After wading through Epiphanius's admittedly rather stream-of-consciousness syntax, you will note these 14 basic classic management types: Barbarism, Hellenism, Judaism, Scribalism, Samaritanism (good, bad, and indifferent), Platonism, Stoicism, Judaism, Hemerobaptism, Saturnalianism, Gnosticism-an offshoot of the "Teams" movement whose subscribers are also called Stratiotics or Phibionites ("Phibbers"), but by some are called Secundians, by others Scrotalists (the "balls" movement [gender-non-specific, natch]), by yet others Zaccheans, and by some people Coddians (see the Diet Books section). All of this jargon can get a little confusing, but bear with me-it'll payoff, a differance that'll get you noticed! Your initial list also neglects to mention the following basic leadership types: an Ebionite, a Marionite, a Cistercian, a Dominican, aStylite, an Anchorite (from Gk. ana + choreo "leave the country"), a Perezzite, a Hivite, a Heterosexual, a BAFFLER路

19


Jebusite, a Hittite, a Horite, a Wordy Midianite, an Amorite, an Aramean, a Canadian, and the 51 recently discovered sub-types of anal-passive discussed in the newGCS text ofEpiphanius as reedited by J. Dummer. Including these in your original question: the "best-puller" would have to have been the Dominican. They have been known, ever since the High Middle Ages, for their industrious ways. Furthermore, as is clearly indicated in Ie Haddock Illustre, as well as in the Holy Writ, at the time of the conference (I think I've got the site pretty well figured out-a rube like you, working out of the GreatFlyover,probablycouldn'tmakeit past St. Louis) "The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete." So you couldn't have brought one of them. The fact that there was, indeed, a medieval form of Semiotics, already working at an advanced stage in the text of Rabelais' Gargantua et Pantagruel (in English, although to translate is to betray, I feel that the title can be glossed as "Gargantua and Pantagruel," despite the obvious problems this raises as to the extent to which reality is linguistically determined) is less important than the fact that Rabelais himself, at an advanced stage in his professional career, converted from the Franciscan brotherhood to the Dominicans. Take it from me, "the Skipper": there's no motivator like a medieval motivator.

tery, and I was not invited to sit in the company box at the recent Dead Moon show in Madison Square Garden. How can I sharpen my interpersonal relationship techniques?

Communication, as Baudrillard has shown us, is ecstasy. It is also agony. Hence, "the Agony and the Ecstasy." Yes. In this way it lends itself to being compared to the agon of the beautiful, naked Hellenic youth, whose flower is crushed as the life spurts out of his loins. Beauty is a commodity, as the Nig-Heist once sang, "because money is sex, and sex is life." Most business executives employ the use of young hairless male prostitutes, not because they want something soft and effeminate, yet more compliant than their wives, but because, as successful men, they understand beauty. You need to make yourself as beautiful as possible. Spend all of your time outside of work at the Gym. Shave your body meticulously and immerse it in Oil of Olay. Like the executive woman who is wearing an alluring piece oflingerie under her somber grey suit, your sheer beauty will show underneath in your triumphant attitude. Without even touching them, you will be able to bring them off in business meetings. Humiliated by the prodigious dark stains down the front of their oh-so-unbreathable grey trousers, impossible to disguise with a jacket casually hung (hanged... ?) from the arm, they will probably have to sit Dear Theophile: I feel that I'm not and talk to you after the meeting while communicating effectively with their pants dry. others. Lately three close associates failed to CC me on crucial topics, I was the victim of a serious parking-lot effron-

20路

BAFFLER


New and recent Wingtip Sloat "Chewyfoof' LP and CD (selling them to Matador as soon as possible, they're already big in England) Flying Saucer Attack "Distance" CD (sold FSA to Drag City for $100,000 plus 20% plus a case of ROiling Rock) Skullflower "Carved Into Roses" CD (Doing soundtrack to new Oliver Stone flix, 3 record deal with me as producer, will be big in new goth/deathmetal/disco crossover market) Rake " Is My CoPilot" LP (Have big life insurance policy, planning to kill them all real soon). CD's 10 worthless American dollars, LP's are 7. Overseas please write first. In fact, all of you please write for a complete catalog of ephemera. You can E-mail usatvhfrecords@aol.comif you want to. Oh, please make checks out to Bill Kellum, thanks. VHF Box 7365 Fairfax Station, VA 22039. Next losers on the auction block: Richard Youngs/Matthew Bower, Rake, Movietone, Doldrums. Distributed by the pigs at Revolver USA and Naptime BV (amongst others, I'm sure).

VHF: exposing, exploring, and exploiting the profitable sectors of the indie rock culture,

1. You hereby grant to ue the aole, exclusive end irrevocable right end licenae to _nufacture, .ell and d.i etribute Recorda, ea claflned below in Paragraph 7(a)(ii), derived fro. the Meetera and otherwiae to reproduce, u.e, perform and exploit the Mesters, and to licenlle others to do ao, in any _nner whatsoever throu<jlhout the world (hereinafter "the territory'), together with the irrevocable right and licenae to uee the name, biography and likeness of each artiat who.. perfoEaanCe. are embodied on such . .ster and each producer thereof for the purposea of trade in connection with the Drenation. advertieino. sale . distri bution. and exoloitation of such Maeters.

Revolver USA

", chain

~

saw

I

Even If It Kills Us Revolver USA

290-C Napoleon Street San Francisco, CA 94124

We al

f

0

eU the foUowing

Ajax· Alias · AmRep • Bongload • Ca rrot Top· Charnel House· CJZ • Dischord • Domino • Drunken Fish • EC8tatic Peace· Epitaph. Fat · Forced Exposur • Four Letter Word • Geniua • Grand Royal. Imp· In Stores The Red • K • Kill Rock tars · We're the cheapest. Ask anyone. Kranky. Lookout· Matador· Knowledgeobleandsnonysoles t erse · Planet Pimp. Road Cone· slaff of your beck and call. ca t · Sme ll 8 Like· ub Pop· Mailorder Tcenheat • Telatar • Thrill Jockey . T/K • Touch and Go • Vinyl Japan Wrtle for a free cololo9 and assur· • and almost all the rest ances about the new EAR. album. Placating obsessive geeks is iob one.

BAFFLER·

21


MAILORD R .. F ine discs since 1gsg

II

Matador • Sihbreeze • Flying un · K •Echonet • Little Teddy • IMD Goldenrod • Sh rim per • Majora • Thrill Jockey • Drag City • Merge Ecstatic Peace • Alias • Amarillo • Kranky • Imp • Roof Bolt · ub Pop Bad Vugum • Smells Like • Amphetamine Reptile · uf Sed • Turbulenc Corpus Hermeticum • Teen Beat Independent Project· cat · Queenie • 3 Li ttle Girls · =unuchs! • Car in Car D isco Womb • Atavistic • Remora • omestead • Twisted Village Ectoplasm • Shangri-La • The Making of Americans VHF • 18 W heeler Feel Good All Over • Brinkman • Raffmond Trix ie • Slumberland Pop arcotic · SOL • Compulsiv • Warped Simple Machines • Harriet Anyway • Pitsbull • Dark Beloved Cloud • Parasol • Quinnah New World of Sound • Dalmation • Flydaddy

Loads of great / interesting / collectable records and CDs and cassettes from around the globe, plus a I \ \ smattering of shirts, magazines and videos. 1ftL# .~ ! We accept Visa and Mastercard and take ~~hone orders toll-free, ~ ordering is just 7 days a week. E-mail f\...~ around the corner, ~!~ ~_ \ _ _ too. Yep. Ask for our free I~"~,: catalog today, through any one of~~ c......:.......~ the mediums below.

I fIP _

'?

22·

BAFFLER

\

. . . .)


The Killer App Wired Magazine, Voice of the Corporate Revolution Keith White The Gateway to the Consumer Earlier this year, some sixty slathering publishing would-bes jammed the upstairs of a brew pub in San Francisco' SOMA district to hear the fifth in a series of "soirees" sponsored by the San Francisco writer's guild. The soiree organizers looked warily at their dwindling stack of folding chairs-never before had one of these informal gatherings drawn more than ten or fifteen chronically unemployed writers. Tonight, however, was different; as pierced and tattooed writers and artists jockeyed with smartly dressed young execs for a position close to the evening's attraction-a soft spoken man in his forties who was chatting with some lucky, starty-eyed fans. For the focus of this gathering was not just another lecture on such pedestrian aspects of publishing as "copy editing" or "fact checking." This was a chance to meet face to face with the "artistic visionary" behind the nation' hottest lifestyle magazine, a journal that had raced to over 160,000 readers in its first year, pausing only to pick up a National Magazine Award for general excellence and a big injection ofcash from Conde Nast's Si Newhouse. This was the magazine that had so successfully captured the zeitgeist that Newsweekwas breathlessly labeling it the "Rolling Stonefor the Computer Generation." We were here to listen to John Plunkett of Wired Plunkett's address, as it turned out, was rather mundane. He divulged such secrets as why the first four pages of each edition are filled by extending a drop quote across computer generated art ("We originally did it to fill up some space"), along with the reason that so many of the magazine's articles are hard to read ("I sometimes have to sacrifice readability when I'm pushing the edge of the envelope on design"). Wired's distinctive look of maimed typography and fluorescent hues may be interesting, but the magazine's truly marvelous feature is its business-cultural mission. Wired is technology's hip face, an aggressive apologist for the new Information capitalism that speaks to the world in the postmodern executive's favored tones of chaotic cool and pseudo-revolution.

Wired's expeditious rise was the payoff of perfect product positioning by its founders and their flawless implementation of an age-old publishing plan. For Wired is to the new cyber-samurai of business what The New Yorker was to the Organization Man (God rest his soul): at once captious doyenne and encouraging confidante to aspiring members of a new, socially insecure elite. Wired works, on the most basic level, by tweaking its readers' anxieties, constantly reminding them BAFFLER路

23


that they are hopelessly behind the times on the latest developments in technology and underground hacker culture. It simultaneously offers careful instruction in vocabulary, name-dropping, thinking, and purchasing to allow readers to retro-fit their resumes, apartments and lifestyles in a manner more 'on-line' with current techno-opportunities. Wired then calms advertisers wary of its "phreakish" posturing by penning gooey appreciations of Silicon Valley CEOs and paeans to the macho individualism of your local cable provider. Voila-a magazine with an affluent and impressionable subscriber base, eager to purchase the accouterments that make up this fascinating new mode ofliving. Wired tells its readers, in great and explicit detail, how to spend their money on consumer luxuries (some expensive, some cheap, all hip). It answers their most pressing info-consuming questions: Which laptop will look the coolest in my meeting? Which on-line service's e-mail address suffix will give me the proper balance between cache and credibility? Who's name should I drop to my bossPeter Schwartz or Phiber Optik? The magazine's miscellaneous consumption column - "Street Cred" - is full of the types of things that young professionals have the money to buy, month after month. Ordering is as easy as reading, since Wiredis courteous enough to include phone number and e-mail address alongside every product they showcase. Big ticket items and limited availability prototypes are covered in a section called Fetish ($10,000 digital Nikons, $49,000 virtual reality headsets), but if you haven't moved that far up the pay scale yet, there are plenty of ads showplacing what you can afford from the likes of Compaq, IBM, Microsoft, Absolut and Dewars. This is what's known in the business as "selling up by stepping down"; in others words, I'll show you the Lexus and you'll know you'll at least need the Toyota. But car manufacturers and distilleries are small potatoes in the Wired revenue stream. Game manufacturers are where it's at, appearing on the cover more than any other single group. Perhaps that's because Wired views these "convergence plays" (where film, games, and merchandising meet)-also known as video games- as the highest form of art, more meaningful than literature (ha!), painting (ha hal), film, or even the internet. The culmination ofcivilization, according to Wiredis the video game, and to play is the ultimate expression of one's self in the Information society. Or maybe it's because, as Wired often notes, the gaming industry takes in over $6 billion in revenues, which makes it the single largest component of the infotainment industry. Either way, each gaming product launch-3DO, Rocket Science, Doom 2, Myst-is welcomed as the future of the art and given generous coverage in Wired ("smart money is betting that this audacious upstart might just hold the secret recipe for some of the tastiest thumb candy to come!"), complete with glowing profiles of the game's creators (variously described as "introverted" artists and guitarists who are "gamers, in every sense!") and never leaving out the most important elements ("the per unit margins are huge!"). The favor is generally returned by manufacturers who take out multiple full page ads over the next few months as they set about hawking their product.

24路

BAFFLER


Magazines that cover particular industries are always tempted to let down the wall between advenisers and editorial, since the subjects of their articles are also the buyers of their ad pages. Most publications work hard to at least maintain appearances of objectivity. But with the chaotically joyous blutring of boundaries accomplished by the Information Revolution, such rules are no longer as binding, a fact which Wired, naturally, has been among the first to exploit. The magazine seems to aim, quite simply, to facilitate the moving of product by the technology industry. As such, WIred strives to be more than just a magazine; it wants to be a market maker.

The Killer App Everyone in business now realizes that the changes being brought by information technology are real enough, and plenty of corporate vice-presidential-Ievel effort has been devoted to trying to predict the cyber-future. The big prize for which every Information Age corporate adept is questing is the elusive "Killer App," the computer program that will mesh together all the rapidly converging technologies, will successfully transform life into a jolly interactive game, and will consequently keep consumers happily paying their info-bahn bills. While the rest of the corporate America pursued the grail by debating the merits of cable vs. fiber optics, a cadre of San Francisco techno-philes were building their own killer app with existing technology, a mere magazine. Print, as it turned out, would be sufficient to meet the ideological goals of the great quest, exploiting the new affluence of those on the "digital vanguard." The brilliance of this idea was not readily apparent. What was apparent was that the computer industry continued to suffer from a serious public relations problem that had developed during the dark days of the Cold War. In the public mind computers were associated, at worst, with world destruction, the blown tube that caused a nuclear war in Fail-Safe; at best with the cold mind of the corporation. That quintessential volume of the 1950s, The Organization Man, came wrapped in a dust jacket decorated with IBM cards, emblems of a repressive number-happy society. As Steven Levy has noted, participants in the counterculture almost universally regarded computers with suspicion: "computers fueled the War Machine, that grinding, wheezing hunk of Kafka that murdered little babies and told us to report to 400 North Broad Street for a physical." But as the ideology of the counterculture became the ideology of corporate America, a major transformation in the image of the computer had to take place. Information technology would have to undergo a gigantic face-lift to achieve proper acceptance in a business world increasingly fascinated with notions of chaos, revolution, and disorder. The famous TV commercial that introduced the Macintosh in 1984 as an implement ofconformitysmashing suggested the course that ideologues of the computer should take; Wired simply picked up where the TV advertising left off. Wired's founders put together an ideological packaging for information technology that screamed nonconformist. The magazine's constant references to an BAFFLER路

25


interactive 'underground' as its primary means ofgiving computers the rebellious image they required. Its layout utilizes the now-fashionable fractured, illegible typography that is the calling card of such radical publications as Raygun, Sassy, and Inside Edge. In addition, appearances by leading pop ideologues like Camille Paglia and R. U. Sirius signaled the direction in which the magazine was headed: straight into the hearts ofwhat one Ogilvy & Mather executive giddily describes as the "techno-savvies." This fall, Wiredmade public its "HotWired" site on the World Wide Web, and created a media sensation by becoming one of the web providers to offer advertising. In addition to the plaudits they received from major agencies, the service attracted the advertising of over 14 big name clients (including AT &T, MCI, Sprint, IBM). Ever the rebels, Wired restricted the use of its site to those who registered by name and e-mail address, which will no doubt come in handy later for merchandising opportunities Unfortunately, within two months, HotWired's executive editor had quit. "A glib and probably unfair way to state our differences is that [founder] Louis [Rossetto] wanted to create something cool for the sponsors and I wanted to create something cool for the people on the Web," said the departing executive editor. Needless to say, the advertisers remain. Wiredrefers to its readers as "digital revolutionaries," but don't be fooled: the "r" term is being used in the same way it is elsewhere in recent management literature-to signifY a particularly unscrupulous type ofexecutive. In fact, according to AdvertisingAge, some 84% of Wired readers are made up of managerial professionals with a median household income of well over $80,000. They may be revolutionaries, but they also happen to be the legions ofMBAs graduating each year from business schools around the country, where Wiredis a must read. This group is rooted economically rather than geographically, and must keep up with the latest thinking on the frontiers ofInformation if they are going to kick ass like their parents did. Wiredhas staked out a classic market niche for itself; the kind of ready-made ideological profit-center that only comes along once every ten or twenty years. It is more than a mere high-end showplace, but a full-blown lifestyle guide, like Vanity Fairwas under Tina Brown, speaking to its status-seeking readers with a familiarly cutious blend of sympathy and exacerbation. It understands what they want, but it is forever scolding them for being slightly behind the curve.

The Rationalizer Wired s vision of the good life is impressively consistent: money, power, and a game boy sewn into the palm of your hand. Equally consistent is the absence of any serious consideration of the problems that come with business control ofInformation technology. In order to reconcile its standard pro-business politics with its rebel image, the magazine makes a great display of embracing a certain strain of extreme information antinomianism. The perennial favorite issue in this strangelycontentless variety of "revolution" is the clipper chip, which has made it into about eight issues in the last year. The

26路

BAFFLER


clipper chip is a device invented by the National Security Agency which would allow them to "listen in" on all on-line conversations. However 'radical' Wired s diatribes about the chip may sound, nobody's going out on a limb by supporting this one around the office: business information is as closely guarded as the plots of anarchists once were. Furthermore, the NSA's plan calls for companies to bear a substantial financial burden in installing the chip. By setting itselfin opposition to this ludicrous remnant of the Cold War state, Wired encourages its readers to imagine themselves revolutionaries when all they are doing is standing up for their first amendment rights. Another Wired cause celebre is the outlaw hacker. In almost every issue, it seems, the editors find a new way to stir readers' outrage over the fate of one Phiber Optik, a jailed hacker described as having a "colorful urban style and a near suicidal willingness to demonstrate his prowess at picking the locks on telephone company systems." While Wired s ongoing loyalty to the troubled young man is admirable, its frequent stories do little more than use him to reaffirm the myth of the rebel entrepreneur so celebrated in contemporary management literature. The bottom line, as usual, is that computers are empowering, and that we, too, can best the stodgy Organization Men, ala War Games, if we show a little pluck. For all its radical posturing, Wireds chosen cultural duty (and market niche) is as the Great Rationalizer of the new technology. While Timeand Newsweek might devote special numbers to the internet, every issue of Wiredblares forth the party line: being wired directly to manufacturers will mean more democracy, increased power for the little guys, greater freedom for consumers who will be able to order goods and talk to their friends (fmally!) through an electronic medium. As the magazine maintained recently, "Life in cyberspace is more egalitarian than elitist, more decentralized than hierarchical. We might think oflife in cyberspace shaping up exactly as Thomas Jefferson would have

wanted it: founded on the primacy ofindividual liberty and a commitment to pluralism, diversity and community." Further down the page, the Jeffersonian ideal is said to include" all the dazzling goodies of home shopping, movies on demand, teleconferencing, and cheap, instant databases." And we thought he would have been happy with a mere Northwest passage. But wait-it gets even better. Not only will the new information technology empower each and every one of us beyond our wildest dreams, it will also allow us to implement all those neat Gingrichian platitudes about government that we've been mouthing for so long: "The netis merely a means to an end," Wirednotes sagely, "the end is to reverse engineer government, to hackit down to its component parts and fIX it." Wiredhas a simple message from which it never strays very far: computers are not implements of conformity, over-organization, and all those other evils of the 1950s; on the contrary, computers are fun. They are liberating. It will be a good thing-hell, let's go all the way: it will be a bona-fide utopia when we are all finally wired electronically together, the big culture conglomerates acting as intermediaries. Rebels with funky hairdos and rockin' attitudes will rule, we'll finally get to tell those stiff gray BAFFLER路

27


guys what to do. No, wait, it'll be even better than that, we'll get to choose from 200 channels. Can you imagine? Naturally, there is nothing wrong with corporate control of the cyber-future. In fact, Wired does its best to present the masters of the "business community" as hip fellow-hackers. The recent cover story about TCI's John Malone, which featured a photograph of this eminent Captain ofInformation "raster mastered" (Wired-speak for computer imaged) to a picture of Mel Gibson as the Road Warrior, showcases this approach at its wryest. Even though the guy has been screwing consumers with high margins for years (to the point where those meddling feds had to step in and put an end to his monopolistic plundering), he's still depicted as a self aware hipster who you can feel comfortable admiring. The secret of Wireds success is rather a simple thing, when you come right down to it. The magazine's founders identified the direction in which American business was moving, the strange cross between 60s countercultural ideas and the usual exploitative behavior which was coming to dominate the boardroom. And then they put themselves out in front of it. Being a corporatron isn't dull and CDnformls.timore-it rocks! And thoU~it may souncll~ to~end all your. free t1rp.$1~.ml?lbm corp,!i>.t;"ate p'roaucl:,11t ~lfe 1\ a. tortn ot reb Ion: ~ Took' ~ those gfiYs'ffi!ttrxE 'On' 4!¥€aYf~f>if1tyve<1Hll mil MffitBRvreffiffi &f RH~1i<Yflil diose

28·

BAFFLER


Famous Men Mike Newirth I have met the famous men, the gaunt Caucasians with the powers you've heard about and thought you could fight, the men of letters, their names known to the captains of publishing, the teachers of literature, and the readers of Esquire, men successful enough to dress like fools and discard their manners. The famous men fly from their cities to this Southern town. We assemble bonfire parties for them on the land owned by our second most prominent writer, with oysters, and grilled chickens, and salads, and steaks, and seviche, and beer, and whiskey. And all the women wear their summer skirts, with flowery prints and scalloped bodices. I smoke fat joints, alone behind the pickup trucks. By the light of the bonfire they inspect us, to see if there are any of us they'd like to buy. The last famous man to come wore a safari suit, shiny boots, a broad hat. Some dunce among us asked him what he thought. "Well," he said, driving the words like nails, "I've been struck by two things today. His wristwatch, and her tits." And we looked at the elegant Indian fellow's chronograph as though it were a smashing novel, and the woman in her black dress stared down at the notebook she'd filled with the best words she knew. Later: the fire down to embers, insects stinging, I was bloated from barbecue and beer, I should have been at a roadhouse instead of in the company of the famous man. He handed me back my story and said, "Son: I respect your courtesies, I am tender towards your aims. But I can see this on any television program." He was sober and old, I was drunk and young, his hair glittered in wisps. ''I'll tell you what, though, if you can steer the minx in the funeral dress to room 110 of the Comfort Inn, I'll look at whatever product you cough up next." You know what? Once I had my own opinions. Once my fingers ran down the smooth spines of books, and I thought that each one made me smart. Then there was the famous man who came and stood alone, out of the orange light, drinking not our whiskey but the wine he had brought. Around his neck was a purple scarf, under his arm a copy of his book, which you probably own, it sold a hundred thousand, but when he read from it, it was boring! and he read chapter after chapter in the crowded hall, while we squirmed in the back row, while our aspirations wilted like dollar bills. At the party, he spoke to no one but the willowy blonde poet whom he wanted to fuck. We still tell jokes about him. But he is there, you know, close to the stars: 0 , famous Latin he can pick up the phone and say, "This is H Mike Newirth recently won the Henfield Foundation's Transatlantic Review prize for his fiction. BAFFLER路

29


American writer," and Christ, the booty rolls home: book contracts, grants, Gap ads, lucrative paperback and translation deals, cases of wine, flattering assessments in reputable journals, the grotty panties of undergraduates, buffet meals, commemorative medallions, financed junkets to major American cities, complete with the hospitality ofemployed literary women residing in the exciting urban neighborhoods, Wicker Park, Deep Ellum, Loisaida. Or sad-eyed dark boys, if preferred. Even our feeble jokes, really, shiny with our wanting. Those too he owns. That's the lot of the famous man. I remain in this grim Southern town. From my windows I watch a strip of bars where women drink free, subsidized by the hunger of men. The neon ticks like a clock while I sleep, while all I once knew drains from the seams of my skull. Are we all just in need of a good sound fucking? Really, did I once think that wordplay might suffice in this life? Famous men, famous men, in my sheet-wound dreams I stand, roaring and shaking, over your piss-soaked graves.

30路

BAFFLER


WILLIAc\1 GmSON ALICE MlTN'RO j\1ARIAc~0ffi FAITHFULL ALLEN GINSBERG EDMUND WHITE JANE SMILEY GLORIA STEINEM LAlJRlE ANDERSON LANI GUlNIER SANDRA CISNEROS JANE WAGNER JOSEPH CAMPBELL JIM HARRISON DAVID SEDARIS SUSIE BRIGHT KINKY FRIEDMAt'l" Acl\lNE LAMOTT BARBARA KINGSOLVER TOBIAS WOLFF MICHAEL ONDAATJE AMY TAN SUSAJ.~ SONTAG

All OF THESE PEOPLE HAVE BEEN TO BARBARA'S. ANDREW VACHSS NTOZAKE SHANGE WILLIAM BURROUGHS GLORIA NAYLOR MARTIN Ac\1IS AMOS OZ WALTER MOSLEY IG. BALLARD KATHY ACKER KAZUO ISHIGURO CYNTHIA HEIMEL SPALDING GRAY JERZY KOSINSKI PAUL AUSTER BEBE MOORE CMvfPBELL A.l"~'E RICE ART SPIEGELMAN CAROLYN FORCHE ABBIE HOFFMAN NAOMI WOLF TIM O'BRIEN FRAt~ CONROY KAREN FINLEY RICHARD BRAUTIGAN JOHN LYDON ISABEL ALLENDE ANNIE PROl..JLX ERIC BOGOSIAN NAT HENTOFF BUCK1\1INSTER FULLER JOSEPH HELLER ARMISTEAD MAUPIN HAVE YOU?

rr::BARBAMS ;1 B<IDKSTORE

11

;1

.

".

1350 North Wells Street 3130 North Broadway Chicago. IL 60610 Chicago, IL 60657 312.642.5044 312.477.0411

1100 Lake Street Oak Park, IL 60301 708.848.9140

BAFFLER路

31


SHjm IS ]MP01(TM{T COfJ./SI1YE1( TJ·[r£ COMM1.FJ{JOf}.[L.9lt]3~L '11:J.':!1IJCj·£'/i;ml'Ji./,J{OJli')tnJ CO:\.'17 ''It£ 'JI'JtJ.M.fI'){Jj DI,/('I] {CC};\f:VI.J ·· beC4U80 arcber. of loat were already t oken . 'j LOO'Ji.'J.'l]/I'ltl. ' ('()L(~ I.> ('JILL'r;'/I')jJ'1'1'£'JiSHl£'£'T Di'/(,I] (n)," ,f .1,1 ·· which ono to love? you wil l amile. 'rol:x'J!If'I'L(~' IOXlT: ')$ $I f.(X),x, 1:'(.>I'I )r !If1.'1'1('1] (Cmf;V 32 t ··would benefit trom beino on a raux Indio. emus '};" (OX/ '/~)fj)'{')((m), 'JNI('J(. '~{>l'I'£'ll'PJl/!'\ '" Cj'llM ('11 (nr.lf'\{ .W · ·the hope. and dreAm.~ tho h~n heart bondlomoly paekoQod. (·(':\,P1/;.1/ . fI L'X.('IIL'J'JII:i~'jJ'f('J' ('j) (C(};\f'" 1/ ) ·· relax end aleop, two drope o( angeli c a 1n brandy . (~IfJ(j.> 'AN()X/ '01 CjI'I"I:X LlCj' n l.~l ('- ' lffJ.I.'J 10,(,/1 {( 'OWI( 2 ' 6' Ul • · comprlooo mony emot.ional momento*

'J)'I(CO/ '/! /'II,'PS, '/J'£'£3 '" ('Jf£'/i'l1./'f.>

'}) /I(.

7' (CO V ," l;j

·· moon void o f course, at lOOGt I know it'. good. '}lI'rrj{'If.' Cj, <r:r/ '/I'!::JOfll'/l, 'f; 'l'r-lt'l] (('O;o.f':lll t) ·· who aro they trying to copy? 'JII'rc'JfM~Cj '-£'ln IMIt ' c.~ .,'f; '/I, '}lOOp) (')] {(,()'If' lf J2) ·· early ru paul tribute from one o t tboae c arol ina banda.

fltu,· fp/ (,J/t •• ,.. ~"Jt.\ ·JJ~· l·L\. At J4yJ fl J 'hV,J ' I ":JiLl! 6floJrItJI,H!'Jltwlu.J Ifrt,' tJ Jff)rt'flt!(ftV/ ..';. •,"'ult u j(n ·1 ·~r.."I,) \ 'l'lJuMU tilt uP'''"''''.• "61:' ... (til r« >rO/, . Ilk ... , Jpt:zt IANt '/tTT mlTTt in/OrtrtnlWn tm , lr l s i ut(t~f dml tm nt~(f>.

+* +

. '+ '1 + ,1' . * ,:r ; ,:r

aOl'u6 "" ,Fat mttmtl , '1' . '1'* + '1'

w{ ,((lm(

:,'* ' *0 , *,:r .

Jl'lYfJ'RJ:,5S: 290 ,(' apOrtOIl Strat, all :Jrallcuco :JJIX: (415) 824 ·9276 (,UVtf carr 6y pr.OIl~)

'E,·M.Jl 1L: CO').(90f'll 1('J@?-{J:!rCC»f.CO:'}.(.

32.

BAFFLER


I've Seen the Future, and

It's a Sony Stephen Duncombe

I figure it's my duty. In earlier times, in other places, I would have consulted the tribal elders, heard the debates at the amphitheater, or gone to the town meeting. But as a good citizen of the overdeveloped world living in the dawn of the age of corporate feudalism, I figure it's my duty to journey to the centers of corporate propagation and tax abatement and be edutained And so I make my pilgrimage to the IBM Think permanent exhibition and the Sony Wonder Technology Lab. These increasingly ubiquitous company exhibits-museums, galleries, learning centers-are where the Gospel According to the Corporate World is set forth. It is here that I can discern the order of the new world, have my questions answered, counsel given, societal integration assured. Actually, that's not quite true. I don't want to be integrated into their world. But these are the powers that are running ours and I want to see the future they have in store for us. And so I go. IBM Think is housed in the basement of the granite and glass modernist IBM monolith in midtown New York City. The building is as gray and ordered as the suits once required for all IBM personnel. Everything about it speaks of clean and brutal power: fock with me you'llget a boot up your ass, except here it will be a wingtip, and it will be done quietly and efficiently. I walk through the doors, down a flight of stairs, and I am there: subdued lighting, gray industrial carpeting, gray walls, and hushed tones. A temple of reason, a place of contemplation; like a library or perhaps a monastery, or, with the ubiquitous presence of hovering guards in neat blazers, a bank. Except for the guards, the place is empty and the only sound I hear is the even cadence and reassuring tones of white male authority that unfold from the rear of a darkened room. But on my way towards this sacred chamber I'm intercepted. Work stations showing the wondrous ability of computer databases to inform on myriad topics block my path. Sidetracked, I pull up before the "History" monitor. Images of America past scroll across the machine. I put my finger on "Topics," it glows and transports me into another menu. Here I point to "Labor." And again I'm transported. At this menu I can pick labor history topics that range from "Freedom of Contract, 1905," to "Seizure of Steel Mills, 1952". I press "Freedom of Contract," andoverablurofarchival photos meant to bring me back through time, a voice recalls the Supreme Court case of a bakery owner in Buffalo who won the right to work his employees more than the New York State BAFFLER路

33


regulations of ten hours a day, sixty hours a week allowed. Surely a great moment in labor history. "Seizure of Steel Mills," my next choice, recollects President Truman's attempt to nationalize U.S. steel mills during the Korean War. But once again the freedom of business triumphs. Due to the objective and judicious thinking of the Supreme Court, the President's decision is overruled and, as my electronic tutor informs me, "the mills remained in private hands. A forceful example that the court can limit the expansion of presidential power." It's an interesting labor history that doesn't mention the Ludlow Massacre, the Pullman, Seattle general, Ford Sit-Down, or Air Traffic Controller's strikes, the Wobblies or the CIO, or any mention oflabor struggles at all. In fact, IBM's labor history seems solely concerned with the ways that threats to unlimited business expansion were defused. Some of this confusion is cleared up when I back our of "Labor" and light up the "Business" history section. It turns out that four of the five history lessons oflabor are also included verbatim in the business division. Synergy, I guess. But the voice of reason beckons, history calls. So I make my way back through the darkness. Here is the centerpiece of the exhibit, its ideological heart: the IBM Think inspirational/historical video. Like the stained glass windows and tapestries of Medieval churches which once taught illiterate peasants God's word according to whomever was in power, this is where the great order according to IBM is unveiled to us modern masses. I ready myself. I face a black, slightly concave wall lined with black matte video monitors. A red digital clock on the left wall counts down the seconds 00:03, 00:02, 00:01. The wall lights up and mood music swells. A blur of nature in fast forward, douds speeding across the sky, the sun rising and setting, nature out of control. An image of Stonehenge. The Voice: Imagine standing on that cold plain a thousand years before the pyramids. Alone at that distant dawn. How terrifYing the world must have been. And how we responded to the night's dawn, with the dawn of technology. Megaliths carved by hand, shouldered upright, fashioned to create order ... [dramatic pause] .. .from chaos.

Stonehenge dissolves into an image of a circular shell which dissolves into a circular staircase. These, in turn, are replaced by a picture of some Conquistadora warship sailing off into space to metamorphosize into an Apollo spacecraft. The Voice pontificates some more as pictures of "innovators" appear and fade away; the line ending with IBM scientists . .... What is the purpose of this constant need to know? to do? Perhaps it is the discontent of it all. The sense that things can be better ... more efficient .. .faster ... more fair. But perhaps it is more ....

The video goes on: pictures of deaf children being helped by IBM technology, a woman readingoffan IBM screen and smiling contentedly, electromagnetic fields, more

34路

BAFFLER


kids learning, presumably about order. The Voice reminds us of all the good that the great god bestows upon his children and then issues forth his command: And all of this to expand the very power of our minds ... and our spirits. To define ourselves against ... The Chaos. The screen returns us back to nature, which is then superimposed with a fractal geometry grid-bringing proper order to that messy and bothersome thing, nature. This is the world according to IBM. From apes to IBM scientists-the unfolding spirit of history. There is but one direction and one imperative: all of history, in the words of the accompanying pamphlet, is "a solid record of the human drive to create order." This fascination with order and the unfolding spirit of IBM continues elsewhere in the building. I wander over to the IBM Gallery. Here I find two exhibits, both quite appropriate. The first is Sardinian religious art of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries; art with which the Aragonese colonizers of Sardinia reminded the locals of the great hierarchy of being and the locals' place at the bottom. The second exhibit is simply of old maps, hundreds of them, laying grids-in hindsight often grotesquely misshaped and misinformed-over the rest of the world. Order, we must have order. Upstairs I am treated to 100 Years of Information Technology, with models of computers from the Hollerith Tabulating Machine used for the command and control function of the 1890 U.S. census, to its logical extension: the IBM personal computer, every person a potential order bringer. And then I'm done. I suppose the Fear of Chaos and the Power of Almighty Order should have me trembling in supplication, but it doesn't. For all its authoritarian bombast, there is something distinctly pathetic about the IBM universe. In fact, I find Big Blue's lock step vision almost endearingly quaint. It's a linear history-one event after the next, all following some internal logic. The end of history is clad in a white scientist's coat; a time when IBM has figured out how to control everything. And you're either part of the system or you're chaos. This classic "modernist" notion of history is out of favor nowadays. Too predictable and too square, the po-mo academics cry (while jockeying for place in tenure succession). The exhibit also demonstrates a belief-a creepy instrumental incarnation, perhaps, but nonetheless a real belief-in Reason. It is IBM Think after all, and they (kind of) mean it. Very square. IBM is out of step. What's missing from their "100 Years" of history is their own eclipse by other computer companies, and their subsequent massive "downsizing": the firing of tens of thousands of employees and plans to close their main suburban New York headquarters. And to today's much touted more-cynical-than-thou audience, their exhibition is woefully out of step as well. (In fact, one month after my visit, it closed.) IBM could have learned something from other mega-corps like AT &T, who early in this century had to figure out how to convince the American public that BAFFLER路

35


a private monopoly of a public utility would be in the citizenry's best interest. In 1923, William P. Banning, AT&T's Assistant Publicity Manager, put it this way: [our job] is to make the people understand and love the company. Not merely be consciously dependent upon it-not merely regard it as a necessity-not merely take it for granted, but to love it-hold real affection for it-make it an ... admired intimate member of the family. To hell with ideas, to hell with Reason. And in a society with feel-good democratic illusions, Machiavelli's old idea about fear being more powerful than love won't wash either. This notion might still do the trick in those parts of the world where his disciple, Kissinger, and fellow slime still run things, but what's needed here is affection, understanding, and playfulness; that just-one-of-the-folks, feel-the-pain, yet ready-to-party spirit. Lights, camera, action. Fun, not fear, is what gets them on their bended knees today. This philosophy was spelled out in 1939 in an internal memo from Walter Teague of the cabal of corporate muscle, the National Association of Manufacturers, regarding a propaganda exhibition for the great New York World's Fair to be held that year. In the keen competition for public attention at the World's Fair the most commendable and educational exhibit will fail completely of its purpose unless it is presented in such a dramatic form that the people are interested, entertained, if possible fascinated and delighted as they see it. IBM scientists in white coats and babble about order over chaos tend to score low on the fascination and delight scale. Order is boring, chaos is fun. The folks at Sony learned this lesson well. To get to Sony Wonder I leave IBM's solemn modernist Stonehenge, cross the street, and enter Phillip Johnson and John Burgee's pink granite, Chippendale roofed, postmodern playhouse. The building used to be owned by AT&T, and in 1978 they struck an agreement with the city: in exchange for building six more whimsical stories than zoning regulations allow, they would have to provide an educational "public" space, operated by AT&T of course. So when Sony took over the building a year or so ago, they also inherited AT&T's public obligation. Bur whereas AT&T showed no enthusiasm for the task in years past-their" public" plaza was bleak and desolate-Sony has poured money and expertise into the space, in the process interpreting "the public" to mean "their public," or Sonypublic, a captive audience for fun, excitement, and Sony products. The heavy weight of IBM's juggernaught History slides away as I enter the Sony Plaza playland. No grey carpets, no somber tones; here are lights, whistles, products: Sony. Money lenders would feel at home in this temple. Whereas IBM announced itself softly, their logo on a pamphlet or on a guard's blazer pocket, Sony screams. The name hangs from the ceilings on banners. It's printed everywhere. There's the Sony Signature Store, the Sony Style Store; Sony even gets its name on "Gottfried's Newsstand" (Is "Gottfried" a real person? a fictitious Sony one?). Not really a public space, like the old

36路

BAFFLER


fashioned parko.r square we might have expected, this is a Sonypublic space: the public-private space of the future. But all this Sony glitz is but a teaser for the main event: the Sony Wonder Technology Lab. My "adventure" (as the accompanying promo literature puts it) starts at the entry lobby where 1 extract my Sony Wonder Card-a simple plastic credit card with a bar code on the back-from a machine that bears an uncanny resemblance to a condom dispenser. A Sony minion then appears and herds me and the other adventurers onto a glass elevator. The doors of the elevators shut and as we begin to glide up, a Voice resonates from the ceiling informing me and my fellows of the wonders that are to befall us on our "Journey of Discovery." At the top floor the door opens and after a brief passage we enter the Log-in Station. Armatures of steel tubing and wires running from ceiling to floor are scattered throughout a dark room. Each armature is equipped with a keyboard, a small adj4stable video screen, and a slot for the card. 1 walk over to one and enter my plastic. I'm half expecting a terrifYing face to appear and bellow "I am Oz," but no, the screen glows and a young white woman, looking vaguely bohemian, appears. "C'mon, come closer, closer," she beckons. 1 come closer. She tells me to type in my name, which 1 do, and then to adjust the screen to my eye level. A brief flash. My picture is taken and my image glows for a few seconds on the screen. Trying to draw me into conversation, she asks me an innocuous question-"What animal makes the best pet?" Trying to share in the warmth and casual good times flowing from my new companion 1 answer. My response is instantly recorded on the screen as a voice print. The woman reappears and says, "Great, you're officially logged in as a media trainee." Media trainee? 1 look over my shoulder. A video image of a young black man is cajoling another trainee into logging in her personal information. Throughout the room people are BAFFLER路

37


standing in front of the armature apparitions willingly giving away their souls to friendly multi-culti faces. Black, white, red, brown, woman, man, gay and straight; the dominant white male, suit and tie, middle class persona ofIBM authority is nowhere to be seen or heard. (strangely enough, I don't notice any Asian faces either). My god, I realize, it's the Rainbow Coalition asking me for my mugshot and voiceprint. IBM designed the computer pass system that made it impossible for non-whites to travel freely in apartheid South Africa, bur that's across the street. This is Sony and this is the new order. Not really an order at all, just friendly folks as diverse as you and me asking for personal information to track you while you're having fun and "training" for Sony. Paranoia begins to set in as I find myself wondering who came up with this idea of a pass system for an interactive exhibit first, Sony Wonder or the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. Leaving the Log-In Stations, I walk across and down the Communication Bridge. It's a funhouse corridor ofhistotainment, with hundreds of video monitors simultaneously belching out fragmented bits of history. I pass by a picture of the first telephone, then soon after, Peter Fonda on his hog in a scene from Easy Rider. No unfolding-spirit style history here, just a cacophony of simultaneity and banality. And here history isn't distant or remote. No stiff pinkboys telling me abour their order, this history is part of me-my favorite TV shows are playing on monitors as I walk by, newspaper headlines from my youth appear, movie stars I had crushes on. To underscore the point that Sonyhistory is our history, they are planning to install a system whereby the great computer mind which has been tracking your progress will insert your picture into a montage of famous faces on a video monitor as you approach. Who was that jerk who sung about the revolution not being televised? Who needs him and who needs all that hard work that goes into revolution? I don't need anybody telling me what history is about, I'm a part of it right now. See, I'm represented, I am somebody. Look, there, next to Marconi, right above Marilyn. Every man a king, Louisiana populist Huey Long once promised; every person an image, this is popular power Sony style. Tearing myself away from my place in history I trot down to the "interactive" theater where my media training is to begin. I insert my card at various stations and run through a number of "hands-on" training exercises. The first is a Recording Studio where I get to "join the team" as a recording engineer and help mix Sonystar Celine Dion's "new hit song," The Power of Love. Unfortunately, the limits of interactivity prevent me from deleting it from the earth forever. Next I punch in at the Robotics Engineering Station, where as a trainee I get to operate little metal bugs that wander around in a cage, factory automation that helps get rid of pesky and unnecessary skilled workers, or my favorite, a robotic arm in a nuclear plant. Running the last of these, I get a calion a nearby phone. I pick it up and a voice informs me that there's an energy leak and I get three chances to find it. IfI find the leak I get a call offering me a raise and a promotion. IfI fail I get a call to evacuate. Then on to the Environmental Research Station where I get a choice of

38路

BAFFLER


responding to two environmental crises set in New York: an oil spill and an impending hurricane. I briefly wonder why I don't get a chance to clean up the nuclear melt-down I just created with the Sony robotic arm at the previous exhibit, but I quickly move on to the Sony Wonder Television Studio. Given the option of any number of technical positions, I can help "produce" shows for Sony. I'm part of the team, again. I'm ecstatic. Next, in the post-production lab, I can try my skill at re-editing Sonytalent Billy Joel's new video. Again, I'm only sorry that I can't erase it. Maybe I'll bring a powerful magnet next time. The next room is split in two. On the right is a Medical Imaging Lab, which allows you to experiment with "technological innovation [which] plays a life enhancing role in modern medicine." On the left is the Video Game Production Studio where you get to work on a Sonygame inspired by the Sonymovie Dracula. I weigh my options: life enhancement, vapid entertainment. All value is relative in Sonyworld, right? I head for the video game. Looking for the exit I cross through the Design Gallery. Here is the closest thing Sony Wonder has to IBM Think's linear sense of history: lining the walls are artifacts chronicling the development, from concept to consumer product, of the Sony Handicam. I marvel at the history of evolution brought down to the level of the development of a video camera. Finally, exhausted, I make it to the Log-out Station. Here I punch my card into a machine and receive ... a paycheck? No, a "certificate of achievement" with my picture and skills rating printed on it. I head for the door only to find that after Logout there is one more skill to be learned: consumption of Sonyproducts. Sony Wonder dumps out into one of the Sony gift shops. It's not as easy to decipher the philosophy of Sony as it is IBM's. IBM Think comes right out and announces their vision, Sony Wonder doesn't. At Sony you become part of their vision, participating within it, grooving on it, working for The Man and not even knowing it. You become a Sonycitizen without ever being sure what it is you're a citizen of. My experience with Sony Wonder makes me almost fond ofIBM' s rigid authoritarianism. At least with IBM you know where you stand: You either wear the grey suit or you're off the bus. It's so ugly, so foreign, so whitebread, so easy to hate ... so easy to oppose. Sony Wonder is different. It has no clear and open philosophy, no "bringing order to chaos" mantra; Sony Wonder presents itself as chaos. It's easy to debate a coherent philosophy and to argue against a history lesson; well not easy, but at least you know what you're up against: something" out there," other and wrong. But it's hard to agree or disagree with something you can't nail down and think about. Sony is amorphous, not caring whether you agree or not (what is there to agree to?). It just is ... and, by the end of the exhibit, it is you. No abstract ideas, no alooflab-coated windbags, or distant historical allusions; no polemics that might arouse critical suspicion and disbelief. Sony doesn't lecture, BAFFLER路

39


it ingratiates and integrates. Their world starts out as part of mine: the faces at my electronic interrogation look and talk like me and my friends, not AI Gore; and history on the Communication Bridge is intimate, made up of images I know, including my own. Surrounded by all this familiarity, I begin to cherish Sony and Sonyproducts, like, well, an "admired intimate member of the family." Sony doesn't convince me of anything with political arguments; they draw me in through experiential conversion. The message here isn't Think, it's Wonder. In this era where everybody creates, I get the chance to produce Sonyproduct and be a part of the Sonyteam. Tapping into popular democratic aspirations, they give me interactive" choice." And then they offer up the ultimate in 20th century free-will expression: the opportunity to purchase from the full range of Sonyproduct. Sony Wonder gets under your skin without you knowing it. The chaos it projects keeps you from seeing any pattern or any political ideology. Instead the Sonyworld envelops you: swirling, dancing, embracing, amusing. As a child of the postmodern world, it's hard not to get off on it at some point. Engaged in Sonyfun, I even find myself forgetting my overarching critical mission and neglecting my birthright cynicism. And meanwhile every action I take and every experience I have brings me closer into the fold. Sony doesn't tell me what to do, I'm already doing it. The totalizing politics of Sony Wonder are allusive; not because there aren't any, but because they're all too familiar. They are an unarticulated politics we've learned through years of breathing, seeing, feeling, tasting-just living-in an era of unabated hyper-consumerism and corporate rule. And because this experiential catechism is not out in the world presenting itself as a belief system, it tends to go uninterrogated, and slide by as neutral, or worse, "natural." These ideas are now so naturalized and part of our collective unconscious, that Sony didn't even need to employ a Banning, Teague, or Goebbels to design its Wonderworld, just a prestigious design firm-they "instinctively" knew what to do. And as its message is everyplace, it also seems to be no place. This is the magic of Sonychaos. Unlike Sony's corporate acid trip, IBM Think is intelligible. IBM Think is, in a phrase, the (old) ruling ideas of the (old) ruling technocracy. And there is something almost comforting about its obviousness in this respect. Sometimes, when leafing through old magazines, I like to look at the advertisements: brush with Pepsodent or you'll be a spinster. It's hard to believe that these ads ever convinced anybody, their coercive intent and message are so open. IBM Think reads just as plainly. You either buy in or you don't-but you know what it is. It's stern and imposing and gray and paternalistic ... and boring. It's also something tangible. It gives you something to reject, to rebel against. Because IBM believes in order so thoroughly they construct one, and in so doing give us an order to tear down. Their very order also implies that we could build a different one back up. It allows us to imagine that we might replace their vision and their history with something equally coherent and equally grand. In brief: the world according to IBM is Utopian. Okay, so we don't like their Utopia. It's atrocious, I agree. Good, then

40路

BAFFLER


let's go out and create our own and try to replace their's with our's. It might be difficult, maybe even impossible, but the point is that it's conceivable. It's hard to conceive of how to fight the Sonyworld. There is seemingly nothing there to reject; no coherent order to replace, no grand vision to supplant, no logic of history to rewrite. Teague's design for N.A.M.'s World's Fair exhibit 55 years ago might as well have been written for Sony today: I do not ... see it as an historical pageant. I see it as a series of related exhibits which the visitor will review one after another until he arrives at a climax. In Sonyworld there is no past or future-except relative to the world of media entertainment; no historical progression-except for the Handicam, and finally, no change-except that moment of "climax" when one becomes a true believer. In other words, for the modern Sonypublic, like for the peasant ofyears past, the world is fixed, outside of human creation and control. So all that is left for us to do is just sit back and make the best-or worst-of it. IBM's linear history no longer weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living. Gone is an historical tradition which excluded whole ranges of people and experiences, ran roughshod over others, and dictated the future from the past. But Sony presents us with something worse: a static world in which humans don't make history and individuals have no place-except as happy diverse worker! consumers integrated within a world already called into being by Sony. For all its sound and fury Sony Wonder is a strangely stagnant universe: everything moves but nothing ventures outside the confines of Sony. So what do we do? Let's face it, as much as we may need one, we're in no shape to conjure up a Utopia nowadays-with or without a solid adversary in mind. In fact, the whole notion of the "we" that's going to do any of this is a bit problematic, as the only universal "we" out there in the open is the public-private corporate one. But the absolute banaliry and horrible meaninglessness of the World According to Sony is bound to create some heretics, and cracks in the facade can be forced. It's just too easy (and not much fun) to withdraw into an isolated and selfrighteous puritanism. Besides, we can't ignore their world, it's too late for that. Fighting them is important. It's important because hiding beneath the Sonychaos there is an order. It's the social covenant of the coming corporate feudal state. We work for them, they keep track of us, we buy their products, and they entertain us. But at the end of the day, when we turn in our Sonypass, they don't plan on paying us-except with a piece of paper telling us that we're one of them. Let's make them pay.

Thanks to Stuart Ewen for some ofthe history and David Tomere for some ofthe present used in this essay. BAFFLER路

41


Clip-On Tie The Diary ofa New York Art Museum Security Guard David Berman

I Relentlessly the minutes, some of them golden, touched. - John Ashbery I had a real problem with time during my first few weeks ofguarding. I sought a way to compress it, to make the six hour shift go faster. I tried meditation but I've never been quite sure ifI'm doing it 'right. It always feels like I'm just being quiet. Now I try not to do any waiting while on post. I use the time to build the useless or impossible things that populate the only intellectual frontier that interests me anymore. Today I started working on an opera about the Ohio state legislature, to be sung in German. After six hours on post it's starting to come together. Where the guards lean against the walls, the blue polyester jackets leave stains. Every few months the curators notice these blurry marks and for a few days we are warned not to lean. The older guards get together and moan about their feet. "In Philadelphia," one always says, "the guards sit in chairs." I'm surprised at how many of the museum's visitors are upset by the distortion of the human form in modern art. Is it the violence? It's classical structure that always gives me the creeps. The blank eyes, whether stone or metal, always look murdered. Mr. DeMario is the most romantic of the guards. In the middle ofadiscussion about hat sizes he turns to me and says "I have a very big head ... it's so full of dreams." "I want to write unfinished christmas plays" because everyone's present happiness depends on their image and predictions of the future. "I want to write obscure Danish plays" because everyone's present happiness depends on the idea that there is a lot out there that we haven't seen yet. All the guards know the lady with T ourette' s syndrome. She comes to every new show and, despite her shaking and strange cussing, never gets near the painting or causes any trouble. Its the other museum goers that look over at us as if to say "why don't you do something?" when she stands before the priceless Pollock, grunting "nigger... nigger ... nigger."

42路 BAFFLER


I painted the back of a nickel and quietly placed it of the gallery's stone floor. A blue sky and clouds over Monticello. An hour has gone by without anyone noticing it. Finally a little girl picks it up and puts it in her pocket. I asked Ondre, a Mormon guard, ifhe looks forward to the Judgement Day. He said, "sometimes, when the city and the job getto be too much. That's when I say, 'I don't care if the Lord comes today,' even if I'm not ready." Over the course of a play, the audience fades and fades until the moment of applause when they take the room back, feeling their prescence and power. "We have not been erased." Clap, clap, clap. Octavio Torres is the oldest guard of all. He is in his seventies and his body is completely rigid from arthritis. An ex-boxer with a thick Puerto Rican accent, he is barely five feet tall. On his days off he watches Popeye in his South Bronx Apartment. "I like him. He takes punishment. He remind me ofJake LaMotta." Torres loves to joke around. In the locker room after work he tells everyone that Mohammed lived in a tree and ate bananas back home in Africa. Mohammed laughs and calls Torres "little spanish faggot." Everyone is so happy, so glad to be going home or out into the city. Torres and I look at each other, smiling, and he says "we are men. we must joke."

II A portrait is a painting with something wrong with the mouth. -John Singer Sargent

I was operating the elevator when the repairman came aboard. After a lot of small talk he let me in on an industry secret: the "door close" button is not wired to anything. "It's just a pacifier," he said. On a normal day I think in questions: "Should I quit my job? Why can't I relate to people? Where am I going?" I can never answer them conclusively and only wear myself out. When I'm high in the back of a club listening to Son Seals play I only think in answers: ''I'll move to El Paso this fall. These solos are wandering into every unused space. My girlfriend is pretty good looking after all. I should see about buying a mausoleum." A municipal concession to human psychology: The insides of buses are lit at night because people will not sit in dark rooms with strangers. I bought some greeting cards in a Nungessers junk shop last night. They're not BAFFLER路

43


much more than twenty years old but the sentiments are already foreign. Flufffrom other eras always turns my stomach. What if no one feels these feelings anymore. Do they go down in history like famous clothes? I wonder ifJackson Pollock unconsciously designed so many of these canvases to have the same dimensions as U.S. paper currency, accidentally imbuing them with some concrete power. Working at the museum is changing the way I look at everyday objects. Eating at an Italian restaurant, I look at the red and white gridded tablecloth and wonder that all the dishes have their owned unnamed coordinates. All the guards are freaks. That is a fact. Wouldn't standing alone in a corner six hours a day over many years change you? After work I head back home to Brooklyn, where the nights smell like burnt hair. I see a mother yelling at her kid for working the candy machine wrong. She takes all the fun out of candy. Susan's blind date was a real mess. At the end of the night he walked her home. She was locked out of her own apartment. Frustrated, she asked him to break the door in. He grunted and bucked against it until she was completely repulsed. The sight of him brutally breaking into her apartment frightened her. She screamed for him to get out. I overhear two tourists walking by my post in the museum: "The Orientals have to invade Paris by 1998." Barnet Newman on an Arizona road painting crew. Richard Serra paperweights for sale in the museum gift shop. Did the first impressionists have glaucoma? Older lady and friend in museum today: "This is my first chinese companion. I am going through a nervous period right now. Thank you. . .This is my chinese companion." I walked into the locker room and catch Tony Pasciucco cleaning earwax off his hearing aid. "Christmas carolers shot dead in Brooklyn last night." "What's that?"

44路

BAFFLER


III I guess you're a bore, but in that you're not charmless, because a bore is a straight line that finds a wealth in division. -Lou Reed An autograph hound: "I get them and lose them or throw them away. I only enjoy the asking. Or I concentrate on one star and get hundreds from him." The tired Indian counterman at the coffeeshop saddens me like the Bhopal accident never could. It's the nearness, of course. As I'm leaving I callout to the manager, "you have shit coffee. Fuck you." A woman walks onto the gallery floor. All the guards look over. She appears to be a star, a celebrity of some sort. Finally the word comes around: she's just rich. New York is never more beautiful than it is right after work. Waiting for the subway, I noticed a bit of neatly written graffiti on a movie poster. "Keep a clear head" printed on Rocky's forehead. Free advice to the city. I'm positive that it's the same hand that wrote "concentrate" above that urinal in Hoboken. Burgoyne Diller's paintings reflect nicely on the glossy floors. These reflections should be the actual works, the paintings could function as the projection devices. I wonder if Donald Judd got his idea for the wall boxes from the rows of air conditioning units jutting out of apartment building windows. The Queen of Sweden came into the museum with her entourage today. Across the gallery Mr. DeMario's elaborate hand gestures told me that a "knockout" was at large. She stood in front of the Jeff Koonssculpture as the guide intoned "these two vacuum cleaners, which are hermaphrodites ... " One of the worst things about guarding is having to stand next to tourists that have doused themselves in perfume. Shouldn't they be subject to ticketing by the police? How is this different from walking around with a loud radio on your shoulder, or reaching out and touching a stranger's face? The sense of humor of other ages has always seemed bad. I kill time on post by studying coins. The detail on the back of the penny is incredible (you can see tourists walking up the memorial steps, and the statue through the columns) but it's a shame that Lincoln has to be on the front. Why not Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire? BAFFLER路

45


Mohammed has threatened to use African magic to get our supervisor fired. I spend all day encouraging him to go ahead with his plan. "IfI have sex with Kelly while she's under the impression that I'm rich, it will certainly teach her a lesson, but am I right in teaching it?" The ceilings of the museum are packed with asbestos that occasionally drops to the gallery floor in small clumps. Museum policy states that the entire building must be shut down and the workers be sent home with pay when this happens. The fact that the asbestos had been regularly falling next to Eric's guard post has the administration suspicious. Rumor has it that he brings samples to work in a jar. In the 1940s men often traced the shape of a curvy woman in the air with their hands. Women were known to throw their drinks into men's faces when angry. I stepped outside the museum on my lunch break and smelled burning leaves. "Ah fall," I thought for a second, and then realized my mistake: a building was burning down the block. I wonder how long the mind can be suspended between these two answers, the wrong cause and the right cause, because I like hanging in that split second. I was surprised to find out that Wittgenstein was gay.

IV Move a fin and the world turns -Throbbing Gristle There is a beggar across the street from the museum. Every time he is given change he looks away and says "thank you, God" just above a whisper. People walk away slightly hurt and angry. Steve hates him. When I was six, I saw my father nonchalantly rip a dollar bill in half. I could not believe my eyes. Three people walked into the museum restaurant today. All three wore white turbans. At first I thought they had head wounds, then realized they were members of an eastern religion that I could not quite place. They stood and gazed over the salad bar, considering their strict dietary laws. Lou giving advice on how to dress: "Now you go get yourself a pair of black shoes and a pair of brown shoes ... "

46路

BAFFLER


Kenneth Noland and Brian Marden's color field paintings are intended to be non-referential but they cause me to imagine strange high school fOotball team unifurms anyway. Sometimes, out of the blue, I'll speak in a rigid monotone: "Hello Joan" that really unnerves Joan, whoever the hell she is. Waiting for a friend at the 33rd street subway station, we look at the map, covered in stops. Steve looks at me angrily and says "what makes you think she'll be here and not here, or here, or at any of these?" Two men on TV point guns at each other: "Drop it." "No, you drop it." "No, you drop it." I'm interested in how the director will resolve this loop. His paintings were like speculations on the future published in the full knowledge that they would one day become obsolete collector's items. Mr. DeMario has a real talent for writing jokes about great opening lines: "I was at this parade in India... " or "I was at a roller rink when it began to storm and I missed the last bus home ... " When he finishes he laughs nervously, his lips rolling back like carpets to reveal how wrecked his teeth are. When looking at Donald Judd's sculpture, it helps to keep in mind that the polio virus is a perfectly symmetrical twenty-sided solid. The restaurant next to the museum stopped putting toothpicks out for the customers. One month later they closed down. I had warned them to put the toothpicks back out. I spend a lot of my day in front of Rockwell Kent's 'The Trapper." The painting always engages me because I'm torn on whether it depicts a sunrise or a sunset. They seem equally possible and there are no clues in the shape of the snowbanks or in the position of the sun to let me know. The docent tries to convince me that it doesn't matter, that there can be two paintings. But that kind of lazy permissiveness obscures the third "true" painting. Lawren shows me her distorted "wanted poster" woodcuts. "But you could never catch anybody with these things." "That's the point," she says. "Your point is that people shouldn't get caught?" These pictures were titled "Jackson's Body" or "Jackson's Head" but never "Jackson." Mr. DeMario is having more problems. His wife, a nun who left the convent at age 34 to marry him, has developed a spastic colon. He has invited me out to dinner so BAFFLER路

47


b4<ranky#/ analog technology makes space travel possible

Oadamah This Is Not A Dream CD Jessamine Jessamine CO/ LP The Spiny Anteaters All Is Well CD Labradford Prazision LP CO Prices CD $11 ppd USN $13 Canada/ $15 Elsewhere LP $8 ppd USN $10 Canada! $12 Elsewhere

send check or money order to: kranky P.O. Box 578743 Chicago, IL 60657

48路 BAFFLER


that we can discuss his problems in greater detail than we can on the gallery floors. He knows a place where they make a great "sweet and pungent pork." With Frederick Church's paintings, looking one hundred miles into the distance, over mountain ranges and beyond, it's always difficult to remember that the paint is only a millimeter thick. Why did jazz turn up its nose at the tuba? Last night at the Biennial opening, I overheard Frank Stella whispering some wisecracks about the new Rauschenberg piece to his wife. She gently punched him in the ribs as if to say "behave!" and they walked on. After seeing Rauschenberg through the eyes of a peer, I feel more confident about calling his late work "flimsy."

V If there's ever a problem, I film it and it's no longer a problem. It's a film - Andy Warhol I t would be a tragedy to spend your whole life desperately wanting to be something that you already were, all along. On Fridays the guards are given ten minutes to take their paychecks to the bank. The beautiful tellers have become arrogant from handling money all day. If they have time, they flirt with the big accounts. European tourists move about the museum half-interested, exactly fifty percent interested. Do they ever spill a drink or piss on their shoes? Sometimes, when a beautiful Italian girl wanders into an empty gallery I fantasize about walking over and kissing her on the neck. When she turned around and saw that I was a guard, I would straighten up and whisper "no kissing allowed." The classicist's theme is the recovery of the subjective mind, the healing of the subjective mind. Well, our courts are clogged with these minds. The nineteen year old Cusies are the only twins on the guard force. The girls insist that their spooked grandmother tried to murder them twice during their infancy. First, she gave them diet gum in an attempt to dehydrate them. Second, she sent them new blankets in the mail-the blankets had been soaked in insecticide. Christ's message twisted: Only love your enemies.

BAFFLER路

49


If the fable of "The grasshopper and the ants" was amended so that the world ended before the turn ofwinter, then the grasshopper would have been wiser and the moral would have vindicated him. In a story, the location of the ending is very deliberate. I've been photographing the imprints that deck chairs leave on the back of people's legs. A lady comes into the museum: "I am a woman on TV. You have never had a TV. . . now get off my show!" It only took a few minutes of this kind of talk to make me feel like the intruder. "He" was a sensitive reader, almost too delicate to withstand the commands and admonitions of punctuation. Two drunks outside the Greenpoint subway: "You better leave an hour early to get there on time." They are lying, they never go anywhere, I thought to myself. For whose benefit would they be acting? Why am I so suspicious? John Baldessari burned all his pre-l%7 paintings. "I think that's odd behaviour but I would like to get in touch with him anyway, to see about using the ashes as makeup for this play I'm writing about British coal miners." After guarding masterpieces for weeks, it feels good to stand in my dentist's office before this cheap painting of a ship. If the world was a bit smaller, just three neighborhoods smaller, maybe things would work out. I've heard that there's a scarcity of luxury. In the movie theatres each person has to share an armrest with a stranger. What Duchamp did with the urinal no longer surprises me, what surprises me is the idea that they had urinals back then. I am waiting for the bus when I smell something burning. I turn to the man standing next to me and ask if he smells it too. In preparing to speak he lets a cloud of condensed breath out into the freezing air. For a half second my mind plays a trick on me. "Oh no, he's burning," I think. No one gets hungry at the sight of a lush cornfield or a herd of cattle. It's enough to tell you that we're full of education, not awareness. The painter eyes his subject. It's a single piece of fruit, yellow and shaped like a lightbulb, split open to show the cavity where the pit would normally be, if the pit were not swirling around inside the painter's mouth.

50路 BAFFLER


RECKLESS RECORDS (\581U\~\ \t1'VO

\nd~ndent LahelNew

i

Releases GOOd QuaJiry Used CD '5,

i I

~tte

l10u ,

I

, and [PI

'IV1( Sold, El'rL

S

->4..I1:l/]1lert.

BAFFLER路

I II

51


52路 BAFFLER


I

Shall Be Released

Hiding In Plain Sight With Corporate Press Releases

Jesse Eisinger Since soon after the stock market crash of 1929, United States securities law has required publicly-traded companies to evenly distribute to the public any news, good or bad, that may affect its stock price. Once, uniformed messengers armed with letters from companies and synchronized watches sped across Manhattan to the city's tabloids and broadsheets. At the appointed hour, they would enter to distribute the news into the hands of waiting business editors. Today, companies disseminate virtually all their news with press releases sent via public relations newswires, which rocket information around the world electronically in seconds. Corporate press releases cover news of increasing or diminishing sales, new or lost accounts, expansion or "downsizing," hirings or firings, new products or patent suits, takeover bids and shareholder suits. Every release, of course, eventually bears on the bottom line. And they have one sole purpose: supporting the price of a company's stock. The public rarely sees a corporate press release. It is "served" instead by the media in its usual "watchdog" capacity, culling the wires for "news," distilling them down, and distributing information to the public. The markets, which the immutable laws of economic nature tell us are finely-calibrated devices, adjust stock prices accordingly.

Corporate America, it will come as no shock, spins its news, both good and bad. It obfuscates. It strings together neologisms, jargon and euphemisms. It buries its news within its releases. Having thus spun their news, businesses thrust onto the media the responsibility to discover the facts within the release, facts that it was required to disseminate in the first place. Charged with that task, the media completes the spin in a bizarre ritual that turns out in corporate America's favor. The press unravels the spin by decoding the releases. It understands the jargon; it sees through the obfuscation and legalese; it digs up the buried news. And then, when it has decoded the release and "discovered" the news, the media thinks its task complete. It stops asking questions and moves on to the next piece of news. And so Corporate America wins the spin game by playing to the media's vaunted cynicism. Corporations initiate the dissemination of news and they understand-in most cases-how to stop coverage when they want it to be stopped. The media is complicitous, wittingly or not. By seeking out news that is momentarily hidden and halting its investigation there, the media utterly fails in its task of BAFFLER路

53


reporting and interpretation. Instead, it serves to mitigate and proscribe bad news, helping to guard against anything that might deflate the thick bubble of faith on which the markets rest. Founded in 1954, PRNewswire, the nation's largest disseminator of corporate press releases, has two circuits to serve its 15,000 clients. One circuit reaches approximately 2,000 newsrooms across the country simultaneously. The other, which began operating in 1965, is on a fifteen minute delay, reaching over 100,000 terminals in investment banks and money management firms. The readers on the second circuit include traders, brokers, money managers, mutual and pension funds, insurance companies, and the countless pseudo-professionals on the periphery of the markets. (Investors fall for the press release illusion too, treating releases much like the media. But investors are to be excused for their optimistic bias: they are, after all, interested parties.) PRNewswire's clients, mostly companies, pay a $100 membership fee and then $450 to send a 400 word release ($110 for each additional 100 words) over the main national circuit. In the early 1960s-when companies were still giving their releases to messengers-David Steinberg, now the vice-chairman of PRNewswire, had a vision of press release wires that could serve as the conduit for legally-required disclosures. Under no illusions, he sees PRNewswire as "an extension of the corporation." But the media believes that itis PRNewswire's master. As soon as a press release comes over a wire, an editor-usually whose exclusive job it is to watch the wirereads the entire release carefully trying to gauge its "news value." If it is deemed newsworthy, the editor sends a headline out on the wire (readers would see it scroll up their computer screens) and assigns the release to be re-written. A reporter then takes the release, pares it down to three or four one-sentence paragraphs, rearranges it to bring the important news into the lead, and sends it out to readers. Today, it is possible for the public to read a release only houts later through a database such as Nexis. But most people see only rewrites of releases through newspapers. Each timeworn method' corporations have to hide their news and each individual press release shelling the market at three-a-minute exist in preparation for the inevitable moment a company must release "bad" news. News that disappoints The Street sends the stock price and the value of the company tumbling. To find news, the editors have to wade through a vast blather ofcyber-noise: wholly inconsequential, inane press releases, many of which are merely de-glossed attempts at free advertisement, like this announcement by Alexin Pharmaceutical Corp. Its first line read: "The Board of Directors and Shareholders ofAlexin Pharmaceutical Corporation today announced plans to change its company name to Lexin Pharmaceutical Corporation." The release went on to quote Dr. Jerry B. Hook, president and chief executive officer, babbling: "The name change supports our exciting and aggressive development strategy and will enhance our growth worldwide."

54路

BAFFLER


Others are written in a language that simply bears no close grammatical relation to English. Among the incomprehensible is this eager release from Quantum Corp.

explaining disk drives: "To be considered multi-media friendly, the drives must provide adequate levels of capacity, throughput, and in some cases, seek times, for the particular multimedia task at hand." And then there's this cheering line from Opta Food Ingredients, Inc. about its newly developed synthetic fat: "These products as formulated have zero percent fat, have no trans-fatty acids and possess the most important attributes of fat-containing margarine such as texture, spreadability and mouthfeel." The majority of releases have similarly transcendent wordfeel. However foolish they may sound, they sometimes contain news the market considers important. Press releases often mimic newspaper stories, ostensibly to ease the transition to newsprint, but in most ways they are quite different. They are written in business spin, a peculiar form that is the opposite of political spin. While a politician's handlers take his/her stand on a complicated issue and try to hone it into one or two visceral soundbites, a corporation's flacks take often simple issues (i.e., we cannot sell Version 5.1 of our ball-bearing software) and weave them into opacity. Business press releases' esotericism and calculated lack of clarity carry a tone of seductive nonchalance. They say, at least superficially: oh, don't bother attempting to understand this simple page of impenetrable jargon, because it's really nothing, bat-of-the-eyelash. Businesses know that no tack invites invasion more successfully. The fashioners ofpress releases use several rhetorical devices to mask news. Used ritualistically in almost every release-but especially those containing bad newseach masking device in fact is a red flag of revelation for the reader to discover. Frequently, releases are in the past tense. In a release from a major department store retailer trying to dispel takeover talk, the first line read: Carson Pirie Scott & Co. issued the following statement today: "Contrary to the impression conveyed by the interview with Mr. William Dillard Sr. in today's The Wall Street Journal, the company has not had any contacts or discussions with Mr. Dillard or Dillard's Department Stores, Inc. regarding the sale of the company or any of its stores." The past tense of the word "issued" creates the illusion that what we are reading is already known, that the release is just a reiteration. In fact, the release is the first and only issuance of any company statement on this topic. There are a couple of other interesting devices here. The quotation marks further the illusion by giving the release a false veneer of objectivity, as if it is only quoting another source. The pompous wordiness and solemn tone attempt to put a final sheen ofofficialdom and legalese. This fools no editor: the rewrite will say, "Carson Pirie Scott & Co. denies having discussions etc." The major rhetorical device, so well-known in press release rewrite circles, is to bury the lead. Here, Creative Learning Products Inc. announces, in its first line, that it has: BAFFLER路

55


initiated a program to restructure its operations to focus on the entertainment! gaming industries and to seek financing for both its existing and contemplated operations. Contemplations aside, the company gets around to revealing seven paragraphs later, the real reason it shelled out for a release: Unless these actions [the receiving of financing] are successfully implemented within a reasonable time frame, the company will be unable to continue operations as they are currently constituted. Of course, the "current constitution" it wishes to maintain is its existence. In the rewrites of releases that will go out on the newswire, reporters (in quote marks; often, newswires pay people to do nothing but rewrite releases all day) should bring the news in the lower paragraphs into the lead. They would drop the company's lead altogether. An investor or trader will either read the newswire headline or story off the newswire, or, fifteen minutes later, read the release itself, mentally grasping the news. Knowing that news reporters use quotations exclusively to embellish or emphasize-never to present the key points of a story--corporate press releases often use quotations to tell the vital piece of information. Here in a release from The Shaw Group Inc., the quoted source, here the droning chief financial officer, delivers this news: "We're excited about our increased backlog, as well as the high levels of inquiries we're experiencing and the growth of our foreign operations," [Bret] Talbot said. "However, preliminary indications are that, as a result of continuing delays and reductions in scope with respect to several projects, our sales and earnings for the third quarter ending May 31, 1994, will be comparable to the results of our second fiscal quarter." In an overlong and excruciatingly roundabout fashion, the CFO reveals the "bad" news: profits are not growing significantly enough. The tone changes drastically. The first part of the quotation is pithy and specific. The second part has words and phrases like the tentative "preliminary," the wordy "reductions in scope with respect to" and the benign "comparable." It also couples spurious accuracy, "ending May 31,1994" and "fiscal," with vagueness, "several projects" and "preliminary." Shaw's news fooled no one; the stock fell $4, a 20% drop, on the day the news came out. Perhaps, once, a copy editor somewhere missed the news buried in such an aside. Now, since almost every CEO's comment into his/her fist carries the significant news of a release, putting it in an aside is merely like the bow great enemies take to each other before the final duel in a Saturday afternoon Kung Fu movie. These techniques flatter reporters by allowing them to think they have cut through the boring chaff and already well-known context to uncover the real truth

56路 BAFFLER


of the matter. At the same time the obfuscatory prose in a release serves to lengthen the moment of reading it ever so slightly, pre-empting any prolonged attention. After deciphering the release the reporter feels he has done his job and that all the questions are answered. The appropriate reaction is to forget about the company... until the next release. If reporters got a release that did not dissemble, with a short, clear, and alarming lead (the ideal for a news story), flurries of questions and wild speculations would addle their poor minds. And as any casual viewer of Hard Copy and its clones knows, few reporters are capable of resisting acting on their wildest speculations. In addition to these rhetorical devices, the fashioners of press releases use other physical ploys to hide their news, seeking to overwhelm reporters with data and exploit the deficit-ridden attention span of the media and Wall Street. The strategy takes two forms: first, the sheer number of releases. This is where the inane ones serve their function, as constant, predictable body blows. Editors must weed through them all, punch drunk. Secondly, there is overload of information within an individual release. Public relations trade magazines suggest using this technique, arguing that the generous surfeit ofinformation gives readers everything their hearts desire. The number of releases and the glut ofinformation within them help create the illusion that matters of consequence-defined extremely broadly as anything that can affect the stock price-are happening constantly. It helps convince journalists that all the answers to their questions lie at their fingertips. At the same time, it creates an anxiety that the next release scrolling up the screen will contain other news that is equally important. The barrage forces the press to hyper-absorb a release, frantically going from one to the next, willingly conceding a full grasp of the details. A newswire editor is thinking: get a headline out! get another headline out! The press is satisfied knowing the semiconductor company is losing its major customer, but not concerned with why. After all, sales in its bowling pin division are taking off. Journalists may have few difficulties deciphering press releases, but corporate America's mission of concealment is still ~ccomplished. This one small act of decoding substitutes, in the minds of journalists, for their larger task ofinvestigation and interpretation. Corporate America plays successfully to the media's vanity, offering up a purloined letter and then gasping as it is discovered. The media's acquiescence to these techniques reveals its intoxicated short-sightedness. As it busies itself bringing up the seventh paragraph into the lead, the press fails to ask fundamental questions about the structure ofthe flowofinformation and the profundity ofits content. It prides itselfon being able to discover what a company is saying in a onepage release, without ever wondering what is going on outside that page. What is at stake, of course, is everybody's pension. Because journalists are satisfied with simply decoding the press release illusion, all business news still originates from business. The press becomes a reactive force, BAFFLER路

57


only finding out about truly devastating corruption long after the damage has already been done. A company or an entire institution, like the nation's Savings and Loans, has to collapse ofits own arrogant weight for the press to notice it. Then they merely tour the battlefield, describe the carnage, and add a solemn tsk-tsk. According to myth, markets are level playing fields and all players have access to the same information at the same time. But the curious dance of press release dissemination explodes this sorry truism. The information to which the public has access is sorely impoverished. The carefully controlled flow and coding of inform ation renders the markets highly manipulated and insular. Though petty corruption like insider trading is rampant, its significance in rendering the market an alienating atmosphere for small investors is minimal compared to the disenfranchising power of not knowing the shared language and mores. The media sustains the myth to protect its position as ChiefInterpreter. The press' unquestioned complicity is ominous. In ceding the creation of news to the corporations involved and reading releases over and over again with the same reactive tactics, the press simultaneously expresses a superficial cynicism about the honesty of Corporate America and an abiding, uncritical faith in the righteousness of the markets. But even this puny check on corporate power is in danger of disappearing. As the technological advances of the Information Age make direct access to corporate disseminations possible, the press risks being shut out completely. With releases going immediately into databases, the public may begin simply reading corporate release in lieu of the already self-marginalized press release re-write. Companies are already catching on, envisioning a future where the press-regarded as a tiresome, troublemaking middleman-no longer gets to translate. Corporate America will finally get to tap directly into that waiting public vein, shoot its info in, and the watch the stock market go up, up and away.

58路 BAFFLER


Wr~ ~ ,., 1'芦Ec.A=r~(J..

E ""'路fo;n.: <:. 1-40 /C E@. '5 ?AG-f'\ 1,)'" 17S.CoM.

eed's "Lo a.song CD a detuneditar , m id-fi, onic punch orn of the .Y.C. atmoshere. Easily of the otionally pping 40inute I

BAFFLER路

59


accumulation and its discontents Left Business Observer is a more-or-Iess monthly newsletter on economics and polities worldwide - reporting, muckraking, analysis, and polemic, confronting corporate, academic, media, and state power, translating the mysteries of the dismal science into clear English prose. "admirably literate, even stylish and often sharply insightful" -Alan Abelson, Barron's "absQlutely essential reading" -Barbara Ehrenreich "salutary antidote to the economic mush in mainstream periodicals" -Alexander Cockburn, The Nation

"the most delectable and insightful economics commentary being written in English today" -James O'Connor, University of California-Santa Cruz "factual, clear, stylish, and funny - I read it as soon as it arrives" -Susan George, Transnational Institute

... and one dissent .. . -

"you're scum ... sick and twisted ... it's tragic you exist" Norman Pearlstine, former managing editor, Wall Street Journal, now chief editor, Time Inc. magazines

-----------------------

LEFT

BUSINESS OBSERVER

Name _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ___

Address _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ __

Enter my subscription:

o

o

One year (II issues). $20 ($22 after January I. 1995). Two years (22 issues). $35 ($38 after January I. 1995).

Add $10 per year outside North America. Payment must accompany order. U.S. bank checks or money orders only. Our bank charges $25 to collect Canadian checks. so none of those. please.

Left Business Observer路 250 W 85 St路 New YOI'k NY 10024-3217

60路

BAFFLER


"How May I Serve You?" Corporate Goodwill for a Better America Paul Lukas If the business of America is business, as some blowhard once observed, then surely public relations is a close second. Indeed, while all governments spew propaganda at a prodigious rate, none can match our own in terms of conflating a genuinely reprehensible history (imperialism, international terrorism and espionage, near-genocidal theft of the continent, enduring racism, an ongoing class war, etc.) with a positive public image (freedom, liberty, economic opportunity, equality, blahblahblah). And while you may dismiss that image as the sham it so obviously is, it's important to remember that it's an image that an astonishingly large portion of the world has gladly swallowed whole. Take a moment to view the United States as a product, rather than as a country, and it becomes clear that America has benefited from the most ingeniously successful marketing effort of all time. U nsurprisingly, this effort is mirrored in the tactics of the corporate conglomerates that rule the American economy. Eager to be seen as friendly, progressive entities interested in enhancing and enriching the social fabric of American life, corporations engage in a series of obfuscatory maneuvers designed to make them look like our pals. You already know all the standard tricks that they use, whether they're supporting public television, underwriting an art exhibition, or whateveranything to get our minds off of their draconian labor policies, their abuse of the environment, their single-minded drive to satisfy their stockholders. Nowhere is this more evident than in the corporate consumer-relations departments. Here, safely sequestered from view, teams of customer-service staffers work the toll-free phone lines and answer mail from agitated consumers, endeavoring to convince us that the corporation is Our Friend. Consumer-relations workers are endlessly trained to be helpful, pleasant, friendly, and agreeable, and with good reason-direct consumer-to-company communication, unfiltered through the artifice of advertising, is a rare and dangerous threat to the corporate marketing effort, which depends on material distractions, status appeal, sex appeal, outright lies, and so forth. Moreover, these customer-service reps are often the only direct, live link between the company and its consumer market, so the image they exude is critical. If corporate marketing and advertising creates a mighty huff and Paul Lukas publishes Beer Frame and writes the "Inconspicuous Consumption" column for NYPress, where he first described many ofthese incidents. He thinks religion isfine for those who need it, butpersonallyprefers bowling. BAFFLER路

61


puff that could be equated with the Wizard ofOz, then consumer-relations are the man behind the curtain. How ridiculous it is, then, that customer-service employees are almost invariably underpaid, poorly educated people. They parrot the company position on this question or that, consult their supervisor when faced with a particularly vexing query, and maintain an unfailingly sunny disposition; independent thought, of course, is not in their job description. While these staffers can be quite efficient (I happen to have had several satisfying encounters with them, as we'll see in a moment), the thought that they actually speak for their respective corporations is laughable. Like, we're really supposed to believe that the multi-skillion-dollar company (complete with its multi-millionaire chairman) is Our Friend just because some minimum-wage teleprole tells us to have a nice day? Notwithstanding the relendess cynicism of publications like this one, however, we should concede that these co~sumer-relations departments have generally succeeded in their mission to give a public voice to faceless corporations. I learned a long time ago that consumer-relations departments can be fun, and over the years I've had more than my share of encounters with them. What follows is a breakdown of eight such encounters. In each case, I've detailed the nature of my query and the response I received. I've also rated each response on a scale of one to five @ s, indicating the consumer bliss and corresponding corporate goodwill generated by each experience. Company: Borden, Inc. Reason for Inquiry: While attending a 1988 minor league baseball game in Columbus, Ohio (which, by coincidence, is home to Borden's corporate headquarters), I purchased a box ofCracker Jack that did not contain a free toy surprise. I have never even heard of this happening to anyone else, before or since. Method ofInquiry: Outraged letter to Borden HQ. Response: A prompt but boring letter from Consumer Representative Jane Huber, extolling the virtues of free toy surprises and lamenting the limitations of modern packing equipment. I also received a 35-cent coupon, good toward my next purchase of Cracker Jack (right, just try redeeming that at the ballpark), and a small, compensatory assortment of rather lame-o free toy surprises. Rating:@@@ Company: Green Bay Packers football franchise Reason for Inquiry: In September of 1993, the Packers announced that the team would have new uniforms for the 1994 season, an alarming prospect to those design aesthetes among us who appreciate the Green Bay uni's for what they are: the most visually appealing uniforms in all of professional sports. Method ofInquiry: Urgent letter to the Packers offices. Response: Packers team President Bob Harlan called me at work and chatted me up for a good 20 minutes or so, explaining the rationale behind the impending

62路

BAFFLER


uniform switcheroo (he essentially blamed the whole thing on head coach Paul Holmgren), listening patiently to my arguments for retaining the existing design, and generally coming offlike a very nice guy. When he mentioned that the team had received a flood of responses from concerned fans like myself, I asked him ifhe was personally calling each responden t. "No," he said, pausing slightly before delivering the punch line he just knew I'd love to hear, "just the ones who wrote particularly good letters, like yours." Charmed and seduced by this snow job, I wistfully suggested that Bob's very demanding job probably left him with little time for these sorts of exchanges with the Packers' fan base, but he said, "It's not as tough as you might think-and besides, this is part of my job." Intrigued by the notion of a consumer-relations rep at the executive level, and sensing a cushy new career goal unfolding before me, I asked Bob if perhaps I could have his job, but he said no. He concluded matters by reminding me that in spite of our new buddy-buddy relationship, his decision was final-the Packers would have new uniforms in 1994. I hung up, disappointed but bemused. Follow-up: Bob also sent me a letter-on very nice-looking Green Bay Packers 75th Anniversary stationary, I might add-reiterating the major points of our discussion and concluding, "I guarantee you that the Packers will have a class uniform." I remained unconvinced, but Bob had definitely succeeded in convincing me that he was My Friend. Epilogue: In spite of Bob's "final" decision on the matter, three months later the Packers announced that they were scrapping their plans for new uniforms, much to my relief Naturally, I like to think my discussion with Bob had something to do with it. Rating: ©©©©~ Company: Continental Baking Company Reason for Inquiry: In early 1994 I noticed that Hostess Cup Cakes were no longer being packaged on that familiar little piece of cardboard. Instead, the cupcakes were now sitting in a very unattractive pre-molded plastic tray. This totally ruined the whole cupcake experience for me, because, as everyone knows, the best part of eating Hostess Cup Cakes (or Twinkies, or Suzy-Qs) is removing the confections from the package and then running your finger along the cardboard, thereby salvaging the pastry residue that inevitably sticks there. I mean, that's the best

part-am I right?

Method of Inquiry: Phone call to the Hostess consumer-response line. Response: A personable woman told me that the change had taken place because too many cupcakes had gotten squished and squashed by rough handling duting their trip from the bakery to the grocery shelf ("damage control," she called it-a rare non-figurative use of this term). When I asked why similar steps has not been taken to protect the equally squishy and squashy Twinkies and Suzy-Qs, both ofwhich remain packaged on the cardboard base, my Hostess contact was stumped. BAFFLER·

63


When I suggested that she inquire of her colleagues and/or superiors on this topic, she declined. My energy flagging, I abandoned my pursuit. Epilogue: I've since largely given up Hostess Cup Cakes in favor ofTwinkies. Rating: @@~ Company: Nabisco Brands, Inc. Reason for Inquiry: I was curious regarding the historical background and fiber content of the little string handle on the Animal Crackers box. Method ofInquiry: Phone call to the Nabisco consumer-response line. Response: An extremely pleasant woman told me that the string handle is 100percent cotton, and was introduced shortly after Animal Crackers were launched in 1902. The string was originally supposed to the turn the Animal Crackers box into a Christmas-tree ornament-you could hang the box on your tree by the string handle-although this appears to have been lost in the shuffie over the years. Follow-up: Within a week of my call, I received a promotional flier, telling me everything I could ever want to know about Animal Crackers, including how many crackers are contained in each box (22), how many animals have been depicted in cracker form over the years (37), how many boxes are sold annually (upwards of 40 million), the time it takes to bake Animal Crackers in the Nabisco ovens (about 4 minutes), and the total amount of string used on the boxes each year (about 6,000 miles' worth). Rating:@@@@@ Company: Ohio Art Company Reason for Inquiry: I'd lost my Official Etch-A-Sketch Club Member sew-on patch (one of the perks of being an Official Etch-A-Sketch Club Member, don'tcha know), and was hoping to obtain a replacement from the company. Method of Inquiry: Phone call to Ohio Art. Response: I was transferred to the woman in charge of the Official Etch-ASketch Club, who listened while I explained my tale of woe. She was patient and attentive, but not particularly friendly or enthusiastic-sort of boringly professional. After remarking that I sounded a bit older than the typical club member, she said she'd be able to replace the patch for me at no charge. Follow-up: My replacement patch arrived a week or so later. Epilogue: I later found the original patch behind my dresser. Rating: g@@@ Company: The Brannock Device Company, Inc. Reason for Inquiry: I'd always been fascinated by the Brannock Device-that thing they use to measure your shoe size-and wanted to know how I could obtain one. Method of Inquiry: Phone call to Brannock central.

64路

BAFFLER


Response: A very obnoxious woman informed me that the Brannock Device was not available to mere consumers like myself. "Do you work for a shoe store?" she belched. "How about for a shoe-supply company?" When I replied that I simply admired the Brannock Device for its gorgeous design values and that I would be proud to own one, she basically told me to go away. Epilogue: The next day I went to three or four shoe stores until I found one that was willing to order me a Brannock Device of my very own. Rating: ~ Company: Hershey's Chocolate USA Reason for Inquiry: I was distressed to see that Hershey's Miniatures candy bars had undergone a particularly disturbing packaging modification: For years they'd been packaged in a sheet of foil that was then encased in a looped paper wrapper, leaving the shiny foil tips exposed at the end of each bar, just like most other chocolate bars (and sticks of chewing gum, if you're having difficulty visualizing what I'm talking about). But now they were being packaged in a single foil wrapper with a simulated paper wrapper printed onto the foil. The label design was printed over precisely the same area of candy bar that the old label used to cover, giving the phony visual effect of "exposed" (i.e., unprinted) foil tips. My complaint was twofold: I found the new packaging arrangement less primally satisfYing, and I was thoroughly put out off by the blatant misrepresentation and consumer manipulation involved in simulating the old design with the new. Method of Inquiry: Phone call to the Hershey's consumer-response line. Response: A bad scene from the get-go. For starters, my call was put on hold for quite some time, and someone should tell Hershey's that nobody likes to listen to opera when they're waiting for their call to be handled. The customer-service rep who eventually came on the line was either new to the job or totally incompetent-it took something like 10 minutes just to get her to understand what I was talking about, after which she repeatedly put me on hold (more opera) while trying to track down an answer to my question. She ultimately informed me that the packaging alteration was "probably done for manufacturing reasons," perhaps because of "new equipment in the plant." When 1queried her about the consumer-deception aspect ofall this, she became so flummoxed that she momentarily abandoned her role as corporate spokesperson and gave me her own opinion on the matter: "I don't think most people would mind, but obviously you do." At this point 1 figured I'd better just forget about getting my consumer satisfaction here, so 1 admitted that 1 was a journalist and asked for the company's media-relations department. After I was briefly put on hold again (more opera), a supervisor came on the line, quizzed me regarding my credentials, and promised to put the company's media people in touch with me later in the day. 1 never heard from Hershey's again. Follow-up: When writing about this incident in my magazine and newspaper column, I encouraged my readers to send protest letters to Hershey's regarding the packaging situation, and to forward copies of the companies responses, if any, to me. BAFFLER路

65


Several did so, and I am now the proud owner ofa dozen or so identical form letters from Hershey's to assorted consumers. Each letter concludes with a dubious promise to "forward your comments to our Packaging Department." Rating: g~ Company: Johnson & Johnson Consumer Products, Inc. Reason for Inquiry: Once again, a packaging issue-a friend pointed out that Band-Aids are no longer being packaged with that little red tear-string. She and I agreed that while the tear-string rarely worked in the first place-it always got jammed, stuck, etc.-it was nonetheless an important element of the Band-Aid consumer equation, as essential to the whole experience as that unmistakable BandAid smell. Indeed, although the new Band-Aids packaging is undeniably easieropening, we both felt a bit glum about the whole thing. As she put it, "Even though I could never get the strings to work when I was bleeding to death, I still thought they were-well, the way Band-Aids were supposed to be." Method ofInquiry: Phone call to Johnson & Johnson consumer-response line. Response: An extremely pleasant and patient woman answered all of my questions. The tear-string, it turns out, had been introduced in 1940 and was eliminated in 1993. "People were surprised but glad, " said my J &J rep. "They found the string quite frustrating to use at times, especially when they already had a cut." She said she'd received quite a few calls on the subject, but reported that I was the first one who'd expressed any reservations about the loss of the string. Epilogue: About a week after investigating all of this, Icut my arm in a softball accident, leading me to purchase a new box of Band-Aids. They were very easy to open. Rating: gg g g~

THE CHOICE OF A NE:W GE.NERA1"jON

66路

BAFFLER


My Progress On Stilts Old timer, third-rate Orpheus Lacking even a make-believe Eurydice, A thousand million steps And only now do you notice These ghostly contraptions attached to your feet. You're like a windmill on toothpicks Don't go near fire. Don't try to walk on water. You're teetering, you are about to trip And fall on your face. Screech-owls and buzzards nest On your shoulders. You can see as far as Nebraska. There's a little house on the prairie For you to approach and knock. Three mighry blows with your stilt And they scatter like popped corn. The feast of Cerberus is at hand, You shout. Latch on little white hen, We are going the way of all flesh! These are the stilts of a melancholy Drifter talking. Two straws on their way to the sunset. We stand like sentries Keeping the sky company. Time cannot fall asleep nor can eternity. Awake they think And thinking they deepen the silence. High up there on my stilts I'm eavesdropping. - Charles Simic BAFFLER路

67


OBSCURE AS FUCK OR OUR DUMB LUCK? JU~J

/

WET b/w

tugboat annie tugboat JACK KNIFE vou ...mock

plu. apaci.tl HI"

KING OF SEX

7 " $3 .S0ppd

annie

jocknife b/w mock 7"

$3.50ppd

ARCHER OF LOAF & TREEPEOPLE

split 2x7" ep $6.S0ppd

CRASH WORSHIP

HYBRYDS 'The Rhythm of the Ritual"

Over 70 minutes of beautiful music for meditation, using drums, voice and mher souncls.

MELT·BANANA

"Speak Squeak Creak"

DeDur CD by rhis Japanese group mixes skyrocketing gI;lltar with bizarre vocals and a high-speed rhythm section ..

"Triplemania II" New CD of srudio recordings in deluxe creen-primed copper and cardboard package! Crash Worship U.S. tour throughout the South, New England and the Midwest in late Oct/November 1994.

MONDE BRUITS "Selected Noise Works 93·94" Completely unrelenting 60 minutes of massive electronic noise from this Japanese project.

TORTIJRE CHORUS "In the Land ofLullabye"

Indescribable cartoon nightmare soundtrack, like a chilarcn's show from HeJl.

All CDs $12ppd in the U.S. Add $2 Canada/Mexico, $3

to

Charnel Music, P.O. Box 170277, San Francisco, CA 94117-0277 Phone/Fax (415) 664-1829 Email: charnel@cyberden.com Distribution: Subterranean, Cargo, Caroline, Revolver, Dutch East India

68 •

BAFFLER

C;gel

Europe, $4 elsewhere. ._

lC


Apostles of the New Entrepreneur Business Theory and the Management Crisis

Bill Boisvert Just before Christmas, Walmart workers arrive at their stores to find their boss grinning down at them from a video monitor. Sam Walton, utterly approachable (if only via satellite) in his trademark baseball cap, seems at first to want only to relate a few hunting anecdotes. But then he gets down to business: he's there to launch his crusade for" aggressive hospitality"-a revolution in customer service that will, he promises, catapult Walmart to the pinnacle of discount retail. He gently reassures the faint-of-heart, stressing the internal rewards of the new philosophy: "It would, I'm sure, help you become a leader, it would help your personality develop, you would become more outgoing, and in time you might become manager of the store." Finally, he leads his troops in a solemn pledge as, all over America, one hundred thousand Walmart "associates" raise their right hands: "From this day

forward, I solemnly promise and declare that every customer that comes within ten feet of me, I will smile, look them in the eye, and greet them, so help me Sam. " The authors of the 1992 management book Workplace 2000 couldn't resist this vignette, since it enacts virtually every business cliche ofthe past twenryyears. The leader: Informal and down-to-earth, insisting that everyone call him "Sam" as they swear their loyalty oaths. The vision: Personal growth through abject servility. The program: Forget about merchandise-sell them privilege, sell them attention, sell them a coterie of fawning retainers, capering at their every purchase. The workers: They're not employees, they're associates, trusted partners in building a fiercely anti-union company. But damned ifit doesn't work. Consider Wal-mart purchaser John Love, who accidentally ordered five times too many Moon Pies for his Alabama store: It was a stupid mistake that could have gotten Love fired if he had worked for any of a number of other companies. Not at Wal-mart. Love's boss just told him: "Use your imagination, be creative and figure out a way to sell it." Love did. He created the first World Championship Moon Pie Eating Contest and held it in the store's parking lot. The contest and the promotion were so successful for the company that it is now held on an annual basis and draws thousands of spectators ....

Thus capitalism confronts the specter of post-industrial malaise. As strip-mall revelers fall upon the heaps of faintly toxic snack treats, another tiny crisis of overproduction is transformed into a miracle of overconsumption through the Stakhanovite exertions of a lone hero-salesman. We recognize here a drama of disgrace, forgiveness and ultimate triumph, revolving around a few primordial themes: trust between supervisor and supervised; the redemptive metamorphosis of BAFFLER路

69


clerk into salesman and his centrality in creating a community of consumers; and the community's effort to preserve itself through the yearly reenactment of its foundation epic. And so this spare but exquisite passage from business literature articulates the core motifs of present day corporate ideology, even as it skirts the basic economic issues ofefficiency and product quality. It doesn't question the need to manufacture Moon Pies, nor the wisdom of eating a great quantity of them. Instead, with the ancient sonorities of ritual and myth, it infuses sacred meaning into the making and selling of pure junk. Business literature has always faced two contradictory tasks. It must instruct and prepare its middle-management audience to playa dominant-submissive role in a corporate autocracy; yet it must also inculcate the legend of the entrepreneur who renews the economy by facing, alone and unguided, the inscrutable judgement of the marketplace. Its readers are both fettered within a highly structured business dictatorship, and at the same time devotees of free-market individualism. Business writers massage this tension with elaborate theories of supervision that reassure managers as a class of their indispensability. Whether they steal fire from the Harvard Business School or find enlightenment through a long pilgrimage in Oriental lands, all popular business books share certain idiosyncrasies. They euphemise their tautologies as "common sense" and their lists of slogans as "practical guides", as if management theories are both selfevidently true and arcane enough to require a hands-on primer and costly seminars. Like nursery rhymes, they are fascinated by numerology and alliteration, freezedrying their "findings" into nuggets of doggerel like "the Three C's: Customers, Competition and Change" or Tom Peters' typically long-winded "Seven S漏 Framework: Structure, Systems, Style, Staff, Skills, Strategy and Shared Values." And to make reading fun for executives, they eschew logical exposition and an organized search for evidence in favor of brief, happy anecdotes about take-charge department heads, couched always in the cajolling rhetoric of cereal-box propaganda. Yet these immutable stylistic quirks belie a decades-long upheaval in the literature, from post-war placidity to post-Communist hysteria. Business books of the 1950's, basking in the noontide of suburban sprawl and Marshall Plan hegemony, offer untroubled systematizations of the role of management that let the organization man chart his exact position beneath a changeless corporate firmament, and fortifY himself against tyrant bosses, scheming union reps, sullen lineworkers and other beasts of the field. Best of all, the whole social order rested squarely and eternally on the shoulders of management. As Peter Drucker, the Aquinas of management theory, put it in 1954, "Management ... is the organ of society specifically charged with making resources productive, that is, with the responsibility for organized economic advance." But in the Seventies, strange stars appeared in the sky, heralding unforetold plagues-stagflation, trade deficits and whitecollar recession. Suddenly the management gurus' pious verities of growth and career advancement turned to ashes in their mouths. What if, after all, managers had imbibed

70路

BAFFLER


the royal jelly of business school training only to preside over economic decline? Little by little, a chiliastic tone crept into business discourse. The book titles changed: Fifties-era sobriety (The Practice ofMangement) gave way in the Eighties and Nineties to panic-mongering (Out of the Crisis) and nihilism (Thriving on Chaos). A vast literature on Leadership sprouted up to guide boards of directors seeking signs by which they might discern the corporate Messiah. And just when you'd think business writers would be toasting the death of Communism, instead you find them staring into the abyss, vying with each other to evoke images of havoc and doom. In his 1989 book The Age ofUn reason, business futurist Charles Handy even compared the traditional business world to the Inca empire in that fearful moment when the Conquistadors' sails first appeared on the horizon; he warns hidebound corporate bureaucrats that they too face a juggernaut of unimaginable violence. But to explain all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, you have to look beyond the alarms over "international competitiveness" and the fear ofJapan, for these anxieties are dwarfed by one apocalyptic change in the relations of production:

managers are obsolete. Rational, All Too Rational The Vietnam War provided the first great shock to management's ancien regime, with the whole world from the Mekong delta to the Mississippi delta seeming to rise up against the corporate imperium. As military defeat segued into economic decline-wage and price controls, inflation, the New Left's challenge to business rule, and the occupation of the United States by Japan in the 1980s-the business community's diagnosis of the Vietnam failure would be repeated almost verbatim in their later critiques of corporate America. Right wing critics linked the disaster in Indochina to the assembly-line techniques used to fight the war, sneering at the emphasis on "body counts" and "kill ratios." Their complaints about the moral corruption of the army in Vietnam-not the war crimes, of course, but affronts to orderliness like heroin addiction and fragging-prefigured present-day obsessions with random drug testing, disgruntled postal workers and other symptoms of blue-collar degeneracy. The officer corps was branded a group of careerist hacks who focused on accounting targets and failed to imbue their men with an unshakeable will to conquer. Business critics contrasted the Pentagon's bean-counter mentality with the supposed zealotry of the Vietcong guerilla and his mystical devotion to Ho Chi Minh. They became convinced that the key to an American economic revival lay in worker fanaticism and the cult of heroic leadership, of a sort they believed lay just behind the Iron Curtain. Leadership manuals, whose far-flung quest for potent anecdotes has always bred a certain degree ofdoctrinal promiscuity, began to feature stirring accounts of Lenin's boyhood alongside the usual profiles of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lee Iacocca. Tom Peters even titled one of his books Liberation Management, consciously emulating the rhetoric ofleft-wing insurgency. BAFFLER路

71


For not even Ho himself could outdo American business writers in their contempt for Robert McN amara, who left the presidency ofFord Motor Company to run the Defense Department and the Vietnam War itself. Granted, McNamara, the epitome of a chief financial officer, was a hard man to warm up tOj his favored intellectual pursuit was to spend a quiet evening with his wife and a few friends, taking and re-taking the SAT. It took no great leap of the imagination to blame the bloody debacle in Vietnam on the corporate ethos he embodied. So when today's fashionable MBAs pour into the streets waving copies of Leadership Secrets of Subcommandante Marcos, they're really locked in a struggle against Fordism itselfthe whole complex ofassembly lines, mass production and rationalized bureaucracy that define the American corporation at its apotheosis under McNamara and his ilk. But their insurrection isn't really aimed at the weaknesses of Fordism (or its philosophical generalization, Scientific Management) as a production system, but rather at its implicit assault on managerial privilege. Frederick Taylor codified the principle of time-motion studies around the turn of the century, and gave his name to the system of Scientific Management that sprouted from it. His ideas were embellished by disciples like Lillian and Frank Gilbreth, who coined the word therbligto denote the irreducible physical components of a work routine, simple actions like grasping a tool, releasing a tool, or moving it horizontally. Scientific managers tried to excise unnecessary therbligs from a job and streamline the remaining ones through worker training and rational equipment design. Workers hated the efficiency expert sent out to time their jobs and set the piece rate, who would show up at their coal-shoveling yard with white lab coat and stop-watch, like some satanic avatar of punctiliousness. Taylorism radically de-skilled labor, turning it into a series of robotic motions and suppressing workers' volition and autonomy. Managers loved it, of course-until they realized it was doing the same thing to them. For supervisors became T aylorized as well, transformed into narrow specialists with no more inherent right to power than the average machinist. The boss's traditional virtues of pluck, fortitude, charisma and viciousness became entirely irrelevant to the task oforganizing production. Any colorless technician with a stopwatch, a movie camera and a time-and-motion study manual could do the jobj boosting profits was a simple matter of speeding up the job and lowering the piecerate. The advent of computers completed the debasement of management, automating the executive suite as thoroughly as the assembly line. As managers found their aura of mystery and prestige dissipating, their psychological dislocation congealed into a sense of political disenfranchisement. Peter Drucker, writing in 1954, compared Scientific Management to Bolshevism, observing that" [Taylorism] is usually considered to have been anti-democratic. It was-in intent and direction-fully as much anti-aristocratic," with its soulless enjoinder that "power is grounded in technical competence" rather than the "moral responsibility" that underlies aristocracy. His bitterness at the substitution of "technical competence"

72路

BAFFLER


for noblesse oblige as the legitimating principle behind workplace authority is understandable. It reflects a nervous appreciation that, while powerless workers still have jobs, powerless aristocrats are totally useless and fit only for the guillotine.

Beyond Good and Evil T aylorism has shattered managers' sense of identity and purpose. Thus, when one surveys contemporary business literature, it's hard to avoid the sensation of being caught up in the aftermath of a nervous breakdown. Psychoanalysis, mysticism, religious tourism-all the traditional enthusiasms of an unhinged mind are represented here. Some writers have responded to the dissolution of the corporate psyche with an attempt to rebuild a working managerial personality piece by piece. Howard Fast concentrates on the pre-verbal elements in Body Language in the Workplace. which teaches us to project truthfulness or loyalty by obscure physiological clues like handshake pressure and pupil dilation. Much of this work naggingly recaps pointers on corporate hygiene-don't slouch, don't fidget, don't dress like a slut, don't rape your underlings-that apparently need to be learned anew by each generation ofMBAs. But Fast also reminds us of just how devalued a skill language acquisition really is in the modern corporation, where so much activity seems to be mediated by pheromone signalling, the reptilian fight-or-flight response, and other hind-brain functions. Others focus on teaching managers to integrate higher-order cognitive capabilities into a process known as Creativity. You can actually take courses in Creativity at many business schools-Stanford's features exercises in meditation, chanting, dream work, yoga and tarot-card reading. The acknowledged leader in the field of Creativity is Edward de Bono, whose clients include DuPont and Heineken. De Bono understands that Creativity is both the key to business success and the one faculty in shortest supply among managers. He realizes that managers possess neither the scientist's training nor the worker's long familiarity with production methods; they can draw on little in the way of knowledge or insight to come up with fruitful new ideas. Creativity is thus one area where Scientific Management might still bolster supervisors' status, by letting them intervene in a process for which they have no native aptitude. In its extreme form, managers' dread of the real world leads them into the embrace of Eastern religions. Zen is the most popular haven for the lost souls of executives; indeed, Zen and the Art ofArchery is required reading in a University of Chicago course on Management. This classic New Age text narrates the journey of an Englishman from Western Rationalism to the harmony of Buddhism byway of the bow and arrow. Zen archery is elusive and frustrating, the sort of archery where hitting the target is the surest sign of failure. Initiates must give up all thought of the bullseye and attain a state of utter purposelessness; only then can they be one with the universe of arrows-in-flight. The appeal of this philosophy to business writers is obvious. From a Zen perspective, managers' sense of their own purposeBAFFLER路

73


lessness changes from a burden into a transfiguration. To think of management as a task with achievable goals only reveals a certain degree of immaturity and spiritual pollution. Managing is really a state ofbeing, a never-ending trek inwards towards the purification of the manager's soul; we cannot-must not-scrutinize it by rationalist criteria of quality and efficiency. But many leading management gurus have worked through their denial, bargaining, and rage to accept the obsolescence of managers. They acknowledge the crippling inefficiencies of competition, and present a far-reaching critique of the fragmented, hierarchical nature of work in a mass-production economy. According to the authors ofthe 1993 bestseller Reengineeringthe Corporation, "the old ways ofdoing business-the division of labor around which companies have been organized since Adam Smith first articulated the principle-simply don't work anymore." The business-lit consensus wants a new paradigm, one that hearkens back to pre-modern artisan traditions-with each worker responsible for producing a meaningful artifact or service in a job that fuses labor with planning. Production should be managed by teams of line workers who organize product design, manufacturing, purchasing, wage levels and hiring. Specialization must be eradicated-each worker should learn to perform many tasks; the few coordinating positions that remain should rotate amongst workers. Companies should integrate vertically with their suppliers and customers, sharing information and technology; contracts should be awarded on the basis of a company's willingness to work cooperatively, rather than going to the lowest bidder. W. Edwards Deming, the management fiber-guru who claimed to have invented Japan, even wants companies to team up with their own competitors to jointly develop technology and manufacturing processes. All these writers note impressive gains in productivity and product quality in companies that adopt these principles. Truly rational planning, they say, requires integrated discussion and feedback between everyone from the research scientist to the spotwelder; it can't be done when workers are blinkered and pigeonholed by Scientific Management. It may seem a strange and hopeful sign when corporate mouthpieces plagiarize Emma Goldman. But despite the iconoclastic tone of their prescriptions, the fundamental impulse motivating business writers is a reactionary one-an attempt by managerial aristocracy to enlist assembly-line democracy in the war against T aylorism. But how can such a bizarre alliance survive its internal contradictions? For in their panic at creeping proletarianization, supervisors seem to have forgotten that in this case, the enemy of their enemy is also their executioner. In the workplace of tomorrow, all the us4Ulwork-innovation, planning and production-will proceed in a cooperative and egalitarian way. But then how can capitalism, based as it is on cruel inequalities ofwealth and power, survive? How can the business literature rationalize the privileges of a managerial elite while it prophesies the End of Management? To begin with, where will all the bosses go? To solve this conundrum, management theorists invoke the Law of Conservation of Supervisors: the abolition

74路

BAFFLER


of middle management will be cancelled out by an equal and opposite reaction"corporate downsizing." Corporations will shrink-shedding divisions, plants and employees-while redundant middle managers emerge from their tombs as harddriving CEO's at a swarm of minuscule spin-off and start-up companies that contract for the services the big companies used to perform under one roof. But while middle managers mutate into a class of small-time entrepreneurs, they still must justify their existence in a world where the CEO is even further removed from useful occupation than the foreman. Even in the Fortune 500, upper management has no economic function beyond the traditional boardroom prerogatives oflooting the pension fund and relocating to Mexico; in the especially backward, exploitative world of small business, the boss is just the least productive member of the least productive sector in the economy. The great challenge of business literature is thus to rejuvenate a now superfluous business class by reconstructing the mystique of the entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs must cast off the old husk of managerialism and cultivate their mysterious talents as leaders and visionaries. Part shaman, part huckster, the born-again entrepreneur possesses the gift of oracular communion with the murky forces of market trends, and stands ready to exploit it with the most shameless opportunism. Business missionaries have renounced the old covenant of production quotas and costcutting; the central tenets of the entrepreneur's new catechism are "marketing," "sales," "customer service," and "flexible labor markets." But this complex of euphemisms is really just a smoke-screen concealing a retreat to capitalism's most antique and corrosive traditions of thought-control and worker oppression. For while business-lit hails progressive reforms in production, it uses the new creed of entrepreneurialism to shackle these reforms in the service of an age-old regime of futile hierarchy and mindless consumption. Thus Spake Tom Peters Like all religions, entrepreneurialism requires more than a mere assertion of faith. It carries with it a comprehensive worldview-its own science, its own history, its own art. At its epistemological core it tries to explain managers' sense of disorientation by focusing on the new information technology: the growing flood of knowledge and computing power, far from making things more stable and predictable, will make the world profoundly evanescent and unknowable. Around this key non-sequitur business writers intone a litany of chance, uncertainty and upheaval; they decry "planning" as the apostasy of union negotiatiors and government regulators. Only the gods know what the morrow will bring, and only the entrepreneur can divine their intent. In this vein, Tom Peters draws an analogy between anti-rational entrepreneurialism's crusade against Taylorism, and the triumph of quantum mechanics, which "has trumped Newtonian physics." Newton's orderly, calculable landscape of billiard balls and tidily orbiting satellites has given way to the misty, BAFFLER路

75


flickering world of wave-particle duality, where companies are both solvent and bankrupt until you do an audit. Thus, any attempt to plan and stabilize the corporate world defies the laws of nature at the subatomic level Peters's mind is so hugely blown by Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle that he recklessly links it with literary post-modernism, demonstrating just how dangerous the uncontrolled spread of critical theory can be: To read Max Frisch, Paul Bowles, Gabriel Garda Marquez, Anton Chekhov, Jane Smiley, Malcolm Lowry, or Norman Mailer is to consume a rich diet of relationships, chance, interconnectedness, muons, songlines, things large within small, small within large, things within things that nonetheless encompass things that are beyond them. Perhaps there are Cartesian novels, hierarchical novels, Newtonian novels. Ifso, one presumes that they have been quickly-and mercifully-consigned to literature's dustbin. A bit less hallucinatory, John N aisbitt and PatriciaAburdene argue in Megatrends 2000 that physics is yesterday's news compared to the even trendier pop-science imagery of "the Age of Biology," where the stale old categories of "gender" and "species" are now up for grabs. Business needs "the models and metaphors of biology to help us understand today's dilemmas and opportunities"-a conceptual shift to buzzwords like "growth," "evolution," "feedback," and "symbiosis" (although they seemed to miss other bio-metaphors like "parasite" and "lemming"). The real payoff from these new ways of thinking is a psychic openness to novel products and services, from Snow-max, a genetically-engineered protein snow for ski-resorts, to a vast unmet demand for ethicists to ponder the morality of harvesting organs from the brain-dead. Business writers have thoroughly ransacked the literature of pseudo-history in their search for entrepreneurialism's roots. Any historiography maps the preoccupations of the present onto the past; business-lit history does so in a peculiarly charming way, offering guileless anachronisms like "Cortes had a personality that we would describe today as upbeat," and "Louis XI ruled the Dauphine like an upand-coming corporate vice president made general manager of a separate division." But disturbingly, the historical role-models business writers lionize tend overwhelmingly toward, well, predators-nomadic warriors, to be exact, occasionally sympathetic (as in Emmett Murphy's The Genius a/Sitting Bulb, but usually odious (Wess Roberts's Leadership Secrets 0/Attila the Hun, complete with a cover blurb from H. Ross Perot stating that "the principles are timeless.") Should today's firms emulate civilizations whose history consists of endless cycles of overgrazing, famine and pillage? Yes (I mean, YES!!!), says Tom Peters, who recommends Genghis Khan's Mongol horde as a corporate model. The Mongols' basic unit oforganization, the "group of freelance bandits," admirably adapted itself to conditions of stress and chaos, and fostered a climate ofegalitarianism under a heroic leadership. They easily conquered the agrarian civilizations, who foolishly relied on crop-growing to ensure a stable food

76路

BAFFLER


supply-a mistake that bred timidity, feudalism and slavery. Peters uses similar terms to celebrate modern-day entrepreneurs, singing arias to their barbarian manliness and camaraderie as they gallop through burning villages, ponies laden with swag, lords of a "chaotic" economy where bandit companies ride down the dispirited weaklings who crave order and security. From this overarching metaphor, business writers' draw an appalling vision of the future. Once, the word "progress" meant a general advance of civilization, a general accretion of wealth, knowledge, leisure and neighborliness. No more. To the apostles of entrepreneurialism, progress means the constant acceleration of competition as a mystical end in itself, marching towards a zero-sum Valhalla where winners win and losers lose. Humanity's toil has no other end than the carving of new market niches, fetid hatcheries where a cancerous proliferation of product lines germinate and devour one another. This premise leads business writers to emphasize rapid product introduction as a key to corporate success. According to Peters, healthy corporations are roiling with hives of gutsy executives called "product champions," each one enraptured by a delphic vision of superficial novelty-perhaps of a soft drink with an advanced sweetener or unprecedented hue-and willing to go to the wall to bring it to market. But as entrepreneurs offer products increasingly alike and increasingly remote from the satisfaction of human needs, they find it hard to tell if any given product will find a market. Marketing becomes a probabilistic phenomenon, like radioactive decay; all a company can do is accelerate the pace and volume of product introductions and pray that someone, somewhere, will succumb to their advertising and find a use for one of them. Today's post-modern entrepreneurs thus exhort their minions to a life of unexamined freneticism. "We eat change for breakfast!" sputters one ofTom Peters' favorite executives. "Change something, anything, each day. Just start it, do something!" Peters asks Ted Turner to expound on his business philosophy, and is floored by Turner's guttural response: "Do It!" But doubts sometimes gnaw at executives. Do what? they may wonder. And whatever It is, why should they Do It in the first place? Peters warns executives never to ask such things, never to let their hands fall idle for an instant lest demoralization and obsolescence creep in. For in the split second it takes merely to pose these questions, their companies have already fallen uncounted generations behind in the cycle of new product development. White collar employment is driven by the pulsing engine of product differentiation, so executives should be grateful that free markets demand just this sort of anarchic bustle. After all, asks Peters, "What controller would have foreseen the 'need' for 41 varieties ofTylenol?" (with the attendant 41 product cham pions. ) We already know the answer: no one with the rational goal of relieving headaches would countenance this "need"-which is why the economy can't be left in the irresponsible hands of "controllers." BAFFLER路

77


Thus Spake Leona Helmsley If managers have been ousted from their exalted position by new relations of production, perhaps they can be restored to it by the relations of consumption. This hope animates one of Business' most entrancing fetishes, Customer Service. In the entrepreneur's pantheon, the customers reign supreme. Business writers worship these deities-their exacting standards, their fickle tastes, their ceaseless trawling for new stuff to buy and not buy. Workers might have thought that egalitarian, team-based production would mean a more relaxed and humane workplace. No such luck, apparently, since today's customers make leona Helmsley seem lenient, according to the authors of Workplace 2000: Responsiveness/fast delivery. "I want what Iwant when Iwant it,l/ said our customers. "I don't want to have to wait. Idon't want to have to stand in lines. Idon't want to have to come back next week or next month because 'you think it might be in by then.' Give me what Iwant now or I'll go elsewhere." Commitment/caring. "Show me you care. Don't treat me like a number. Don't treat me like you hate to see me coming. Appreciate me and empathize with my needs, my cares and my concerns," customers told us. "Accommodate me. Don't make me feel like a number [sic] or make me adjust my life (or even my mood) to accommodate your company or your employees."

78 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER

Birth of Tragedy "Half the people, paid double, working twice as hard, with three times the output." According to Charles Handy in his book The Age of Unreason, that sums up life for the "high wage, high skill" workers at the small, furiously competitive information-age companies of tomorrow. But what's really in it for the workers? You might be sorry you asked. Business writers warn that only the most fanatical labor discipline can satisfY today' s imperious consumers; the entrepreneur's paramount responsibility, indeed his raison d'etre, is to enforce that discipline. Boyett and Conn write that "Workers will be expected to do everything absolutely right, the first time and every time .... Workplace 2000 will tolerate no mistakes, no errors, no waste, anywhere. Zero. None. Period." Most people will work for small businesses, whose demands for perfection require a complete subordination of the worker's will to the goals of the company. "[T]hese 'work hard, play hard' companies want nothing less than total responsibility and overthe-edge loyal ty ... the line between work and play, the line between public and private becomes fuzzy." Writers return again and again to images of "family" to convey the totalizing character of social indoctrination in the new workplace. But does their mealy-mouthed rhetoric of conciliation, closeness and self-fulfillment conceal a sinister new totalitarianism? Wtll the new" quality circles" and "pride teams" really empower workers, or subject them instead to intense exploitation and collective punishment at the hands of a benevolent "leader"? Tom Peters showcases the new dispensation in a profile of Johnsonville Foods, a sausage company in Wisconsin. If you guessed that this business has something to do with making meat a little easier to swallow, try again. At Johnsonville, self-actualization is Job One. "We're here to give [workers] an opportunity to achieve whatever it is they want to achieve in life," says CEO Ralph Stayer, who adds that "watching people grow is my number one joy." Employees (excuse me, "members") are organized into self-managing work teams that control virtually every aspect of the business; the company even helps pay for continuing education.


"Look, anything you learn means you're using your head more," says one line-worker. "You're engaged. And if you' re more engaged, then the chances are you'll make a better sausage." And make them they do: one worker even cooked up some novel sausages for a new client-in his own basement! Soaring profits, smiling faces, growing workers-and yet, is there darkness at noon? Well, Peters admits, "teammates deal harshly with any who choose to opt out of the 'personal growth business'''-those who can't transcend themselves through sausage products. "People who didn't buy into it, given peer pressure, got out," says one executive. "Some needed a little help to make the decision," recalls another. "There were a lot on the fence, there were a lot on the wrong side of the fence. There's a weeding process. Some drop by the wayside." Hmm. "Harsh" peer pressure ... a big-brotherly CEO ... that chilling vagueness as to the fate of fence-sitters ... what exactly is in room 101, anyway? And don't put too much stock in being "paid double." Handy gives us a pointed reminder that blossoming sectors like professional service firms now sub-contract their work to the Third World, so that data-entry clerks in London must compete with their Taiwanese counterparts working for a small fraction of the wage. High pay is certainly not on their employer's agenda's. On the bright side, kids may enjoy a drop in their unemployment rate, say Naisbitt and Aburdene in Megatrends 2000, who call for "liberalized" childlaborlaws. "What's so bad," they ask, "about a 14-yearold working limited hours after school?" Especially given the high wage, high skill jobs typically offered

Satisfying such profoundly selfabsorbed, narcissistic customers will require a particularly sweaty, degrading sort of emotional work. According to Tom Peters, employees must ingratiate themselves by "going belly-to-belly with customers," and "intertwining with customers in ever more intimate ways." The metaphor of worker as temple prostitute reflects how crucially marketing and sales depend on a silken mind-fuck.ln the retailing demi-monde, everyone will be an emotional worker according to Charles Handy (who extolls 路Purpose, Pattern and People-the three P's at the the heart of life"). The tasks of ordering and distributing retail goods will soon be highly automated; consumers will place orders with their personal computers and pick up the merchandise at central warehouses. But against all odds, retail stores will persist: "Personal shopping on Main Street will become a leisure activity with all the frills and fancies." Thus

BAFFLER路

79


shopping, a useless relic in its own right, will take on some of the aura of an S-M psychodrama, with clients mounting bold displays of aristocratic entitlement against a backdrop of deferrential employees. Business writers pump up the customer service fad as a sort of war between"customers" and their "employee" oppressors. In Workplace 2000, Joseph Boyelt and Henry Conn use the word" criminal" to describe customer service in the '70s and '80s: Americans waited hours in check-outlines while other registers were closed and clerks who could have opened those registers talked on the phone to their friends. Our requests for help were met with a blank stare and "It's not my department" or "I don't know." .. .The altitude oftoo many employees was, "This would be a great business if it weren't for all the damned customers." But consumer petulance always seems focused on rude waiters, lounging cashiers, ape-like baggage handlers, and other working-class effigies, which suggests that the Customer Service movement is really concerned with a more conventionally Marxist form of class antagonism. The business literature has sworn a holy war against this epidemic of bad altitude in the workforce. Tom Peters revels in creepy anecdotes about absolutely inescapable customer service, like the Frito-Lays potato-chip salesmen who are required to visit every single one of their clients every

80路

BAFFLER

to 14-year-olds. Business writers celebrate the small firms that will overrun the economy as "scrappy" and "innovative"but "desperate" and "archaic" might be better terms. As liberal economist Bennett Harrison notes in his book Lean and Mean, most new small companies fail within a few years, and, unlike the corporate behemoths, few can afford to invest in new technology and research. In the eyes of the business community, their saving grace is labor discipline ("employee commitment"). Small businesses are so precarious that workers put up with low pay and long hours just to stave offbankruptcy. But as corporate downsizing proceeds, job security is a thing of the past. In return for "over-the-edge loyalty," workers can expect a pink slip out of the blue-such is the imperative of "labor-market flexibility." Naisbitt and Aburdene regard the very concept of job security as a perverse joke, snickering that "Loyalty is a quaint memory of the industrial past, a bone in the throat of hundreds of thousands of auto and steelworkers who thought it went both ways." Conn and Boyett explain that employees in Workplace 2000 must prepare for frequent, extended periods of unemployment and expect to "change careers" at least five times before retiring. They suggest that" all Americans will need to keep a close watch on the financial performance of the small company or business unit that employs them," to avoid being caught by surprise when it abruptly folds. Even in the high tech sectors, Workplace 2000 looks less like the 21 st century than the 19th. As Bennett Harrison points out, the gleaming office parks of Silicon Valley rest on a foundation of Dickensian assembly plants, staffed by poverty-stricken immigrants working under unsafe conditions, for long hours and low pay. And the trendy clothing boutiques that dazzle suburban mall-goers and business writers alike are mainly supplied by Third World sweatshops, where 1O-year-olds work 60 hour weeks so that apparel manufacturers can "make their companies fun again." But even as business elites hold entire regions of the world hostage under threat of capital strike, their position may be more tenuous than ever before. Most


people are inherently conservative, in the best sense of the word. If they're given a chance they may reject the 路 0 f " unreason, " "ch ange, "an d "h wors h lp c aos "; t h ey may refuse to be bits of debris swept along by the latest "megatrend"; they may decide to defend their farms and villages against the Mongol hordes thundering down on them. For as workers take over the shopfloor, what's to stop them from taking over the entire company, or from intervening in the management of the economy as a whole? If that happens, they may embrace an alternative vision of progress. They may want to channel their surpluses into greater job security and shorter hours; into liveable cities instead of shoppable suburbs; into a vibrant natural environment instead of a clear-cut RV park; into a rich, collective public life that all can freely partake of, instead of the pre-processed, rent-by-thehour lifestyle of the virtual-reality helmet. This is the nightmare that haunts Business: That to the cult of competitiveness, we will oppose the ethic of solidarity; that we will conclude that we can eat enough sausage, and drink enough beer; that we will gaze at that mountain of Moon Pies and, in the end, just walk away.

single day. Or the Fed-Ex courier who, in the midst of a delivery, "[G]rabbed the coffee cup I'd left perilously on the roof of the car and brought it into the house.... It was a 'little' act of caring." And don't get Peters going on hotel service. He spends two pages bitching out one resort for slow room service, tooshort telephone cords, and dirty ash trays, then goes slack-jawed with admiration at the Disneyland Marriott when he spots workers washing the leaves of the potted plants in the lobby at 4:45am. He even opens his book In Search of Excellence with an ode to Washington's Four Seasons Hotel simply because the concierge there remembered his name (although we get the feeling that Peters is a difficult guest to forget.) In these passages, Peters seems to recoil from every echo of the revolution-the French Revolution, that is. He seems to pine for a simulacrum of the seigneurial economy, structured around extravagant displays of personal obligation and dependency, where liveried menials stand poised to sop up every drop of caffee that dribbles from their masters' lips. - Bill Boisvert

SABOTA6E..' The choice of millions

BAFFLER路

81


okstores

Quality used, rare

82路

BAFFLER


Meeting Polanski Jamie Callan I should have seen it coming. I should have known it was going to happen. I mean it's notlike I wasn't forewarned. All the signs were there that this was going to be the worst day of my life, and the very best I could probably expect from it was an over-the-counter medication, and a quick cure for whatever it was that Ajay had given me. "Betsey," he whined to me over the telephone. "It was a once-in-a-lifetimething. I mean how many other chances am I going to get in my life to sleep with a Laker Girl?" There I was, trying to hold down the reception desk at Phillum and Hustonan executive search firm that specializes in CPA's and has lots of rules about office decorum, like no eating yogurt at your desk under any circumstances, and I had to deal with this very personal situation in a discreet way. "You pig!" I screamed into the receiver. Mr. Ph ill urn was showing a dient to the door. It was a man from Sony Pictures who needed someone really smart to count all their money. Mr. Phillum shot me a look full of poisoned daggers then turned to Mr. Zillions. "Benefits. Benefits. Benefits," he said. "Just say the 'B' word, and our men are jello in your hands." "She wasn't anything to get jealous over, Betsey." Ajay told me. "Her breastsI swear they were implants. I mean, my God, they were so firm." ''I'm going to kill you!" "Betsey, I want to see you in my office right now." "Betsey, she wasn't even very dean. In fact-" That's when I hung up. I knew what he was going to say. Be a sport, go to the L.A. Free Clinic, get a prescription, and think of this experience as just one of the many ups and downs of being associated with Los Angeles' premier basketball team. "Betsey," Mr. Phillum began as he shot his golf ball off the little tee on the miniature green he had installed in his office. "Are you familiar with the 'p' word?" "The 'p' word?" I looked at him blankly. Truthfully I knew what the 'p' word was, but I was stalling for time, playing dumb-probably not the best tactic, since it hadn't gotten me very far in life up to this point. Mr. Phillum made a hole in one. "Okay, to be more precise. 'PB'--do you know what that stands for?" "Peanut Butter?" "Betsey, did you not read the employee handbook. It says in there dearly and concisely, no pb's allowed." "But I don't know what a pb is." "And you didn't take the time to look at the glossary ofabbreviations in the back BAFFLER路

83


of the employee handbook?" He had me there. "No," I confessed. "But 'B' stands for benefits." I said. This was probably not the right thing to say at that moment either since, all employees at Phillum and Huston are part time and therefore not eligible for any benefits. "Personal Business!" He glared at me. "Betsey, I want you to know that I am letting you go NOT because you had the nerve to discuss your yeast infections while I was entertaining a client, but I am letting you go, because you never bothered to read the glossary. That, my dear Betsey expresses your problem in a nutshell. You just don't care. In a word, you have an attitude problem." "You think it's a yeast infection? But I'm not even itchy. Don't they make you itchy?" "Betsey, this conversation is terminated." He stood up and shot another ball off the tee. It went off the green and rolled under his desk. I thought about getting it for him. I mean, it was actually sitting right there by my shoe, and I could have pushed it back out, but instead I kicked it further in, just so my last vision ofMr. Phillum would be of him crawling under his desk on his hands and knees. Unfortunately, my triumph did not last long, because when I got downstairs to the parking garage, and loaded up my bruised '79 Honda Accord LX hatchback with all the sruffl had accumulated at the office-an extra pair of black high heels, half a dozen romance novels, and a pile of resumes I kept ready at all times-I found that the car would not start. This was actually not incredibly surprising to me. I had been playing Russian Roulette with the car for weeks now. Sometimes it would start, and sometimes it wouldn't. I tried to find clues. It seemed like it wouldn't start if I was in a bad neighborhood late at night, and it was raining. Then it would start up with no problem ifI was home and the sun was out, and I was only going to the supermarket. I said a prayer. Any religious inclinations I might exhibit can be attributed to my '79 Honda. In fact, ifit weren't for this car, I would have probably long ago forgotten The Hail Mary. "Betsey!" Ajay screamed at me. "Put her in neutral!" He had hooked the front of my Honda to the back of his Porsche and was planning on towing me all the way from Westwood up the canyon to Studio City, where I live with my two roommates in an overpriced single apartment. The Porsche made this awful grinding noise, and I took the stick shift out of reverse and put it in neutral. The grinding noise stopped and Ajay slowly took me up to Sunset and over Beverly Glen. Uphill was okay, but downhill was a nightmare. My Honda kept bumping into the back of the Porsche, and I could tell that Ajay had already calculated the price of this fiasco, and decided that even ifI did forgive him for the Laker Girl, he wasn't going to forgive me. It was past eight o'clock by the time we made it to my mechanic's garage. Chester, my Australian mechanic, was waiting for me. He didn't look very happy. "What the hell took you so long, Dolly?!" Chester had long ago decided my

84路

BAFFLER


name was Dolly, and I had given up correcting him. Besides, it seemed like a small enough favor in return for which Chester charged me half what other mechanics charged-just so long as I put up with him pinching my cheeks and caressing my thigh whenever he felt a test drive in my Honda was necessary. But Chester was annoyed to see Ajay. And Ajay seemed annoyed to see Chester. "What's this bloke doing here?" he said. "You got a fuel injector on that piece of shit?" Ajay glared at him. "Keep your hands off my ex-girlfriend," he told him. That's how I found out we were breaking up. Ajay's parting gift to me, before he screeched out of the place, making the kind of spectacularly rude U-turn that has made the Porsche's reputation, was a business card for a woman's doctor in Beverly Hills. Unfortunately, he didn't leave me a check to pay the bill, but then I realized that even ifhe had left me a check, I probably would go to the Free Clinic anyway, and use the money on luxuries-like food and rent. "It's the carburetor, Dolly." Chester told me. "You need a new one. It's going to run you about three hundred bucks." I walked home from the garage, thinking where in the world was I going to get three hundred dollars. Not only had I lost my job, but the rent was due in a week, and there was noway I could call Ajay and his bumped up Porsche. I crossed Ventura Boulevard and passed a homeless couple with a sign that read "will work for food." I stopped to wait for the walk signal, and the woman came up to me. "Can you help me?" she held her hand out, while I searched the bottom of my pocketbook for loose change. I really scratched the bottom of my bag, but all I could come up with was two thin dimes, three pennies and a stick of Carefree Sugarless Bubblegum. I gave it all to her, including the bubblegum, and that's when our eyes met. The scary thing about her was that she was about my age-twenty-seven, and she was really pretty. And thin, and had these great cheekbones, and I thought, my God, this woman could be a fashion model. Clean her up, give her a good haircut and you could put her on the cover ofVogue. She bowed her head and thanked me, and then her husband came over and shook my hand, like I was Princess Di, and then even their dog-a labrador mix came over and licked my hand. When I got home, my roommates, Carla and Sharika were in a panic. Apparently, Sharika had met a man. Sharika works as an agent's assistant, and she makes even less than me, had no medical benefits, but she does get to meet a lot of men. "Not just any man, Betsey. Kevin Costner's younger brother." "Great," I said, and dragged myself to my corner of the apartment. "Where are my Cheerios?" I asked her. Carla looked guilty. "Oh, were those your Cheerios?" "What do you mean 'were'?" Sharika came out of the bathroom, her hair all teased up, wearing a micro mini BAFFLER路

85


spandex dress. "You should have labeled it, Betsey." "Since when do we label food?" Sharika tossed her head down between her legs, then jerked it up again and fluffed it up even higher. "Since when do we have food, Betsey?" "Betsey, he owns Cafe La GaGa." Carla shook her head. "This isn't just some celebrity hunt, we're talking food, Betsey. Free food with Kevin Costner's brother. For God's sake, Betsey, they come from the exact same gene pool." Cafe La GaGa was filled to capacity-so jam packed with real Hollywood stars and real live celebrities, that not only was it a fire hazard, but it was much too crowded to let girls like us in. It was for our own protection-at least this is what the doorman told Sharika, as she stood there shivering in her micro mini, offering him a lot of empty promises about her making it worth his while to let us in. "Tell him about Kevin Costner's brother!" I screamed at her from the ropes. "Kevin who?!" the doorman yelled at me like I was speaking Swahili or something. "Kevin Costner!" I screamed again. Carla grabbed my arm. "God, Betsey," she said. "Don't sound like so desperate, or they'll never let us in." "I am desperate," I told her. ''I'm hungry and I'm tired and I'm a disgruntled recently fired employee." "Listen, worse comes to worse, we pool our resources-" she went through her little Chanel bag and came up with three dollars and twenty one cents. "-how much do you have, again?" "I spent all my money on Cheerios," I told her with meaning. "Okay, okay. So we have enough for a glass of wine. We can share a glass. We're all friends, right? You don't have a disease, right?" I didn't say anything. Sharika was running down the stairs towards us. "You'll never believe this," she said, breathing heavily. "Kevin Costner doesn't even have a brother. That guy I met today-he lied to me. He made the whole thing up. Kevin Costner is an only child!" "Well, it's not like you slept with him, or something." "Betsey-I was thinking about the gene pool. I mean, they share the same gene pool. Can you blame me?" Sharika dried her tears, and dabbed at the mascara stains on her cheeks. "I want to go to Chasen's." she announced. "I want to see Elizabeth Taylor and eat chili." "We have no money," I reminded her. "We have three dollars and twenty-one cents," Carla corrected me. "I have my American Express Card." Sharika opened her purse and waved a gold card at me. "I thought they cancelled that."

86路

BAFFLER


Sharika smiled. "Well, they did, but I still have the card." "But if they cancelled it, that means you can't use it. That would be like writing checks when you have no money in the bank." Carla's eyes lit up. "We could do that too!" We piled into Sharika's mother's old Mercedes and headed toward Chasen's with the top rolled down. Sharika and Carla always made me sit in the back. I think it had something to do with my being from Minnesota and their being native Californians. Chasen's was also jammed packed, only the crowd was completely different. They were all older and richer and quieter and much more concerned with chili than they were with Kevin Costner look-a-likes. After alot ofbosom exposure and bending down to pick up several lipstick cases, Sharikaflnallyconvinced the maitre d' to let us sit at the bar. They had to bring in an extra bar stool for me, which made things very crowded, but since I wasn't actually going to buy anything, I thought it might be for the bestto go unnoticed. Sure enough, Elizabeth Taylor was there, and I could see her with George Hamilton in the reflection from the mirror above the bar, eating chili and being very tanned. ''I'm going to go over and say hi to Liz," Sharika announced. She was feeling good, having not only drunk the one glass of wine we could actually pay for, but two mai tai's that a Roman Polanski look-a-like had sent over from the other side of the bar. He had been eyeing us from the moment we walked in, but apparently, didn't want to actually talk to any of us, but just wanted to see what Sharika was like when she was completely soused. "Please don't talk to her," I begged. "She knows my mother." Carla agreed. "She knows her mother." "Her mother sold her a house back in 1973. That's a long time ago," I told her. "Yes, but my mother always makes an unforgettable impression." Sharika suddenly stood up, waved her hand, dramatically, and knocked over her empty mai tai glass. Three waiters ran to her and scrambled around her feet to pick up the shards of glass and place them delicately into white linen towels. Sharika lifted her high heeled feet and tiptoed over them. "You hurt her feelings," Carla told me. "It was 1973." Carla picked up her mai tai. "You know, Betsey," she announced. "Sometimes you really act like someone ftom Minnesota." She shook her head and joined Sharika over at Liz's table. Then I was alone. Alone and very sober. And I started thinking about how it's actually worse to be sober on an empty stomach, than drunk on an empty stomach, and that's when another mai tai arrived. For me. Roman Polanski had sent me a mai tai. And I was grateful. I would have been more grateful ifhe had sent over a bowl of chili and some saltines, but a mai tai was a start in the right direction. I drank it BAFFLER路

87


down, quickly. And then another one appeared. By the time 1 finished the third one, Roman Polanski was starting to look not unattractive. In fact, I decided he had a warm, sensitive face, and that I didn't mind at all if he sat next to me and told me about how his wife left him for her personal trainer. "You smoke?" "No, I don't." I told him. "Me neither," he said, and put the pack of Gaulloises back in his jacket. "I just keep them for friends-you know, just to be sociable. I like to be sociable." He said this as he put his arm around the back of my chair and moved closer. He smelled decidedly French, in a Polish-kind-of-way, and I thought, wouldn't it be funny if he turned out to be some famous French director, and then Carla and Sharika would feel really stupid that they were spending all that time convincing Elizabeth Taylor that she remembered the decrepit Lautel Canyon bungalow Sharika's mother had sold her and was eventually lost in a mud slide down the mountain-not with Liz actually in it, thank God-all the time while I was being wined and dined by a possibly famous French director. That's when I decided I should move on to the dining part. "Gee, I'm hungry," I told him. But somehow, he seemed to misinterpret this. "Me too," he told me, and suddenly stuck his tongue in my mouth. When I finally was able to come up for air, I noticed that not only had Liz and George disappeared, but so had Carla and Sharika. The maitre'd came up to me and shook his head in disapproval. "Your friends left," he told me. "You were busy so they asked me to say goodbye." Roman stroked my knee. "Good riddance to bad rubbish," he said in a slurry European accent. "I give you a ride home." His hand climbed higher up my leg. "I don't think so," I removed his hand, and slowly, deliberately stood up. The room was spinning. ''I'm going to the Ladies Room." ''I'll go with you," he grabbed my elbow. "I don't think that's a good idea." "You need some help, no?" "No." 1 got up and stumbled toward what I thought was the direction of the ladies room. Unfortunately, 1 found myself in some kind of employee lounge with a busboy who didn't speak any English, and when 1 pantomimed my need to go to a ladies room to pee, he just shook his head and laughed. Finally, Roman found me, and I was actually glad. "I want you badly," he told me, and then he grabbed my right breast in the palm of his hand and pressed me against the wall. Out of one eye, I could see the busboy, still shaking his head, and still laughing. I squirmed to get away, but this Roman was very, very strong, and he really had me trapped. In fact, he started gyrating his hips against mine and sucking loudly on my neck. It wasn't a completely unpleasant

88路

BAFFLER


feeling. I mean, something primal was being coaxed awake in me, but unfortunately, the overwhelming need to pee won out, and I did-pee, that is-allover Roman Polanski's leg. At first he just stopped sucking, and looked at me, kind of startled. We both heard the sound of water hitting linoleum, and I felt the warm liquid escaping, and truthfully, I immediately felt better. Relieved. Then Roman stepped back, shook his wet trouser leg, and said something in French to me, or it might have been Polish, but I am sure was not very nice. "I'm sorry. Really. I drank too much. Please." He narrowed his eyes, and for a moment, I thought he's going to spit on me. He moved his lip. He was definitely thinking about it, but instead he spoke in slow English. "You American slut. You piss allover me like an animal. Like a pig!" And then he turned around and was gone. The busboy was gone too. I finally found the ladies room, andin the dim blue light, I removed my underwear and pantihose, threw them away, and washed and dried my thighs off with paper towels. When I got back to the bar, Roman was nowhere in sight. The waiter came up to me with a bill for seventeen mai tai' s and one white wine. It came to a total ofone hundred and eleven dollars and twenty-one cents. I looked around. Surely, I thought, I am on "Totally Hidden Video." I asked the waiter where the gentleman with the French accent had gone, and he looked at me like I must be joking. "Flew the coop, babe," he told me. I took a deep breath. I tried to think what I was going to do next. Here I was with no money, no underwear. Chasens was about to close, and I was stuck holding a bill for over a hundred dollars, and no transportation home. I imagined myself washing dishes until dawn, then walking up the canyon, hitchhiking pantiless, and being picked up by the Ventura County Glass Eyed serial killer/ rapist, who according to Unsolved Mysteries is still atlarge. 1walked over to the maitre'd. "Listen," 1whispered. "I have a little problem here with this bill. I mean, I didn't actually order any of these drinks. They just kind of appeared." "Did you drink them?" "Well, yes. But I didn't ask for them." He turned to the bartender. "Did she order these?" "No, Roman ordered them." My God, I thought. It really was Roman Polanski. I really did pee on a famous director. Suddenly, the fact that he had left me holding an enormous tab didn't seem so awful. It was a brush with greatness, after all. The maitre'd turned to me. "It's okay. We'll put it on his tab. He comes in here all the time." "But isn't he a fugitive from justice? I mean, is he actually allowed into the United States?" The maitre'd gave me a weird look then. "You want me to call you a cab? I don't think you should drive." "Yes." I told him. "And could you put that on Roman's bill too?" BAFFLER路

89


Bert. His cosmology major falls like a free compass point through the breakthrough of all emotional life. A puritan background psychically fused with the interdimensional thought-form of Portland to produce a cathode ray capable of power-crazed crop circles-This is the heart of all living systems-The workshop mode flows formatively across the morphogenetic light-born attractor at the focal point of time and reemerges as the Diet Coke stain on Bert's disintegrating mostly purple tye-dye. He wants to be a trancechanneler when he grows up. Dad, who was on Apollo XI, is, well, mystified. - Rod Smith

90路

BAFFLER


EXACT CHANGE CLASSICS OF EXPERIMENTAL LITERATURE PARIS PEASANT by Louis Aragon $13 .95

COMPOSITION IN RETROSPECT by John Cage $13 .95

HOW I WROTE CERTAIN OF MY BOOKS by Raymond Roussel $15 .95

HEBDOMEROS by Giorgio de Chirico Introduction by John Ashbery $15 .95

IN YOUTH IS PLEASURE by Denton Welch $13 .95

LAST NIGHTS OF PARIS by Philippe Soupault $13 .95

MALDOROR by Lautreamont $15 .95

THE HERESIARCH & CO. by Guillaume Apollinaire $13.95

EVERYBODY'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY by Gertrude Stein $15.95

THE BLUE OCTAVO NOTEBOOKS by Franz Kafka $13 .95

and introducinq:

THE EXACT CHANGE

YEARBOOK

IssuE' NQ 1 1995

NEW WRITING from China, Germany, Canada, Russia, the Caribbean, France, the U.K., and the U.S. COVER FEATURE on Michael Palmer CHAPBOOKS by Gertrude Stein, Hugo Ball, Jack Spicer, Susan Howe, Erik Sat ie, Morton Feldman, John Wieners, Louis Aragon, and John Cage CD with readings by Michael Palmer, Kamau Brathwaite, Barbara Guest, John Ashbery, and Robert Creeley EDITED BY PETER GIZZI $35.00 416 PAGES ISBN ,-878972-'7-0 HARDCOVER WITH AUDIO CD $100 limited edition signed by Michael Palmer available from EXACT CHANGE PO Box 1917 Boston MA 02205 tel. 617.269.6227 fax 617 . 464 .0802 EXACT CHANCE BOOKS ARE AVAILABLE AT BOOKSTORES OR FROM D.A.P. 636 BROADWAY, NY NY 10012

tel.

1.800.338.BOOK BAFFLER路

91


SWIRL

the last unicorn CD A very Big sound Jlvelp拢.. new song,s. .:/Jrnduced by'" ) '(fOp/i no 11 he Bats) -Sugar.

~1~.

saturnine 60 autoguider ep

Voodoo Queens

NefJtuneLFm Not Bitter US debut 7"!

_.. ,-.. II)

"o -~

Tob Pure Recorasband brings you their stateside debut.

For 7/1s, send $5 ppd. AlL checks ~ Extra groovy limited edition seven-Inch serles! pa)'ab/e to DIRTR.ecurtIs. ~ Nifty cardbOard Jackets! Stickers, original band Tfistributed ~ CaIlJO ~olver. ~ artWork, & a bag 0' dirt In each one! Ca~rJline, &Dutch &,;to ' ~SPDFGH

l5 Niahttime/colour In/Sweet De'but! Clear purple vinyl T! -b Motor Home

DIiCI :l

Knj,

New

92路

fr o~

BAFFLER

r

S

Oon 2-9998

~ ~M~1!1~~~ ~~~~~i~~~r~Q~ ~

Swirl

~

starhustler

~ ~tra~~elaOdS(P9.ppel Grave ~ ky uevlny T!

cS DrOwnina/Annika/Sweet BOy Debut! M"onKs Rooe vinyl T!


$$$$$$$$$$ That's Publishing! Joanna Coles At the Four Seasons restaurant in mid-town Manhattan, New York's social and literary elite are mingling gently. There in the corner is Carl Bernstein and over there is Gloria Vanderbilt, Ivana Trump, Joan Didion, Robert Altman, Diane von Furstenberg, Gay Talese, and Bret Easton Ellis. Ellis' companion, a luminous brunette with a bracelet tattooed around her left wrist, is whining about the lack of champagne; but if the atmosphere seems a trifle muted then perhaps the guests are reserving their energies. For this is the first offour parties to celebrate the publication of Dominick Dunne's new novel. "Hey Nick," hollers a large white-haired man in the author's direction. "Hey NICK! I loved your book. 1 loved it." "Did you read it?" Dunne calls back, deftly avoiding collision with a vast tray of smoked salmon gliding across the floor at shoulder height, apparently unaided. "Did I read it?" shrugs the admirer above the hubbub. "1 didn't readit, but I loved it. I'm telling ya, I loved it." It is not unusual for people who mix in publishing circles to love books without troubling to read them. Take Alberto Vitale, the stocky chairman of Random House, America's most prominent publisher, who remains voraciously unread. No time, he explained to the staff when he took over three years ago. He was much too busy making money. And why not? Random House has made a lot of money since it was bought by Vitale's boss, the American billionaire S. 1. Newhouse, in 1980 for $70 million. Today, though the privately-owned company provides precious little financial detail, it is estimated to be worth around $920 million. No one could read that amount of books. In his freshly refurbished office on the 11 th floor in mid-town Manhattan, Harry Evans, once editor of the Sunday London Times, and now president of Random House, has made a lot of money too. So has his wife, Tina Brown, who edits The New Yorker, also owned by Newhouse and therefore rather handy for RH

This article is reprinted with permission.from The Guardian (UK), where it originally appeared. BAFFLER路

93


A Liffle Light Data to go with your reading Bill Cole It's hard to believe that at a distant time the US Congress exercised some legislative common-sense over ownership of media. The 1934 Communications Act codified diversity of ownership as fundamental to the public interest. Then, forty years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the public interest is served by media ownership that represents "diverse and antagonistic sources." So what happened? Debates over the fundamental issues of media control have vanished from public forums. There was no outcry or even much analysis as to how and why Time merged with Warner to create the world's largest media conglomerate. In the recent past we have seen a nefarious marriage between Capital Cities and ABC, NBC gobbled up by behemoth General Electric (perhaps to be sold soon to Time-Warner? Disney?), and who cares to know the fate of CBS? How did Thompson Newspapers came to own over 120 daily and Sunday newspapers around the country, Gannett 77 (including USA Today) and Knight-Ridder 3 of the top 20 highest circulated papers in the country? And while the likes of Disney and Ted Turner prowl for broadcast networks, Rupert Murdoch becomes increaSingly powerful, chewing on his expanding cud of international media outlets until we are flecked

94路

BAFFLER

reViews. "Two million, that's as high as I'll go," he hisses into the phone, before skipping across the office and nearly knocking over a vase of radiant sunflowers in his haste to produce documentary evidence that he has now had 16 titles in the New York Times best-seller list for the past 173 weeks. Harry's salary does not quite match the generous offer he just made, but rumours that he receives around a quarter of that sum-unthinkably high for a publisher even five years ago-are not thought to be wildly exaggerated. "Look," he says, hauling out another set of documents and pointing to a bewildering column of figures. "This is how it works. Every book has to contribute 13 per cent of its budget to corporate overheads." When Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer founded RH back in 1925, it was an emblem of the way American publishing-and to some extent America itself-liked to see itself. Overheads were restricted to the occasional Olivetti and blue crayon. There were no exclusive ranges of ergonomically-sound office furniture, and the salaries were street rather than telephone numbers. Publishers earned modest sums and paid themselves in books, happy to know it was a gentleman's profession. Happy to display a commitment to literature and works of social relevance. Happy to use the profits from best-selling trash to subsidize the important stuff. And so RH continued, swelling every so often as another imprint was welcomed aboard. AlfredA. Knopf, Pantheon, Vintage, Crown and the Modern Library. And then something happened: the eighties-fizzing with acquisition fervour and bursting with money. Within five years, mirroring what was happening in the UK only on a far greater scale, publishing had changed forever, as one after another house was swallowed by huge conglomerates. RH was folded into Newhouse's corporate bosom; Bertelsmann took over Doubleday; Paramount, Simon and Schuster; Pearson, Penguin and Dutton; Murdoch, Harper and Row; MCA, Putnam (then sold last year to the Japanese group


Matsushita). Within a decade, the entire profession had been transformed into an industry no longer answerable to eccentric, moustachioed editors but a line 0 f corporate accountants. An industry no longer bothered about b00 ks but 0 bsessed by a new creed: the greater glory of the bottom line. In came aggressive "techniques", out went handshaken agreements. Authors were pinched from under their editors' pince-nez. Advances grew wilder and wilder as companies outbid each other in competitive frenzy for non-writing celebrities such as Muhammad Ali ($3 million) or Marlon Brando ($5 million). Simon and Schuster led the bidding, winning the lion's share of million-dollar advances for Ronald Reagan's autobiography and novels by Jackie Collins 路 . A D G J: h d f h an d Jac k H IggIns. s an reen, rormer ea 0 t e h TV)" i'l 路 .. S&S k d' 1984 trad e d IVlslOn:t '. remar e In t~ t e w ~ l Street Journal: There IS no level below whICh we WIll not go." Literature, as Jacob Weisberg observed in an essay in The New Republic, had become an afterthought; a garnishing of literary prestige to soothe the corporate conscience. Meanwhile, books themselves had become shoddier. Editors, he argued, had abandoned the task of discovering the sculpture in the raw stone and were increasingly desperate to discover new authors that would sell. Unwieldy manuscripts were passed in the belief that fatter books would sell well and be taken more seriously. Copy-editing declined: Weisberg carried out a spot-the-mistake campaign along his own windowshelfand discovered the protagonist's name spelled two different ways in A. S. Byatt's Possession; five lines missing from Lou Cannon's President Reagan: The Role OfA Lifetime, and the acknowledgements misspelt in E. J. Dionee's Why Americans Hate Politics. As Vitale proclaimed, publishers did indeed want

daily with the spittle of his egobrand conservatism. This is the state of media ownership: execs and egomaniacs laughing their way to becoming Titans of Dissemination while Americans sit and passively observe the jolly proceedings. As it stands the media is an industry like any other and can be as lucrative as tobacco or pharmaceuticals. But it also has an additional allure: power over information. Media power equals power squWarhed. h' h en owners Ip c anges h d h I'ttl b tth an s, we ear leu e bUSiness/gossip pages prattle about how CEO's like Barry Diller think (like Citizen Kane) that it "would be fun" to own a network or how beneficial it would be to the corporate parent's portfolio to own this or that media outlet. The "responsibilities" major media uphold to the public-providing accurate and diverse information in order to enlighten the democratic process-are considered dull and are left to be reSidually fumbled by anchors or the occasional columnist. Legislation like the 1949 Fairness Doctrine was eliminated by the Reagan-Bush FCC in the late Eighties as "burdensome" (with a bit of help from CIA Director-cummajor stockholder in Capital Cities/ ABC, William Casey). The nolion that the airwaves and other to be judged on their profits. Forget political, from now conduits of information belong to on books had to be commercially correct. the public, and are therefore "The actual writing is the least important part." subject to regulation, seems to be says T ama Janowitz, who swept to acclaim four years long gone. ago after the publication of Slaves ofNew York. "It's all BAFFLER路

95


about money," nods Bret Easton Ellis, who complains there is nothing for young people to read these days. "Publishing is very safe and very timid. The more editors I meet, the more books I read, the more my enthusiasm dims." Twenty-one storeys up, the view from Ellis's editor, Sonny Mehta, head of Knopf, is equally simple. "Why should I publish books if they are not going to make money?" Why indeed? After all, if you can flog 250,000 copies ofJ osephine Hart's Damagt<-last year's sensation-on the strength of publicity promising "the most shocking, haun ting and erotic novel", why bother with the real thing? Publishing is a gulp and devour business, and the public needs feeding. So what if Mehta himself is rumoured to have found it a hollow little book? Despite his celebrity status and the nine-page profiles in glossy magazines, this charming mournful Indian makes no claim for himself other than as a marketing man. And there is little doubt he is a maestro at that. He smiles, still fresh from shifting 250,000 copies of this year's sensation, The Secret History, a first novel by an unknown writer called Donna Tartt. "It was crap, we didn't even bid for it," roars Roger Straus from behind a vase of weary dahlias. "There are few people who know about literature in publishing now. These days it's all hype." There is little evidence of visits from a corporate florist at Farrar Straus Giroux, home of Tom Wolfe, Ownership and Cross-Ownership of Calvin T rillin and Seamus Heaney, and one of the last Top 20 American Newspapers References: Editor and independent publishers in New York. The nobbly Publisher Yearbook 1994; tweed chaise lounge suggests the office furniture has Directory of Corporate Affiliations not been changed since the seventies: the Bakelite 1994; Who's Who 1994; telephone hints at an even earlier date. But Straus does Unreliable Sources by Martin A. not care, he publishes literature and that's what matLee and Narman Salamon; The ters. He nurtures authors because it may, one day, pay Media Monopoly by Ben off. Look at Joseph Brodsky and Derek Walcott, who Bagdikian, and reporting on have both won Nobels. Keeper of the literary tradition, media that ranges from The New he stays in business by distributing European publishYorker to Extra! and other ers and stumbling across the odd best-seller. Scott assorted books and articles. Circulation given is weekday as Turow's Presumed Innocent sold more than 750,000 copies and eventually subsidized this season's most

According to media scholar Ben Bagdikian, presently about 20 corporations control and collect the revenue from most u.s. newspapers, magazines, TV, books, and movies. You can be sure this number will dwindle as BO's-style conglomeration and legislative inaction continue. Right now, while 9B% of American cities that have newspapers have only one, and while New York City has four major dailies (two of which cannot be said to provide any extensive issue-oriented analysis), Rome has 1B dailies, Tokyo 17, London and Paris 14. Instead of leaving mammoth network news shows and local monopoly papers to claim ·social responsibility" in their ·objectivity,· these countries retain a relatively partisan media environment. Which serves the ·truth better? You be the judge. It's a debate you won't hear much about elsewhere. Major media has a hard time reporting on major media. Enjoy. H

96·

BAFFLER


exciting first novelist, Jeff Eugenides. Straus bridles at • . the news that HarperCollins has just paid $450,000 for ~f 9/94. (a . refers t? last a~ailable Vikram Seth's epic A Suitable Boy. ''I'll be surprised if CIrculation information, which was . II 40 000 " 9/93) Itses, . I)WIISttJ I . . a ree ournaHe was also surprISed. when Chatto, w.hiCh falls circulation: 1,780,422 (four unde.r the. ~H umbrella I~ London, published the regional U.S. editions) English edItIon of one of his books and changed the Owner: Dow Jones and Co., inc. title from Martin AndJohn to Fucking Martin. "They group. told everybody that was the original title and that we Also owns Barron's magazine, were too prudish to publish. Can you imagine? Us? Too domestic and overseas news wires, prudish? It was all hype. Martin AndJohn was the title Asian and European editians of the of the book." Journal, Notional Business N one of this is news to Andre Schiffrin, who Employment Weekly, American provides the most inspiring two-fingers yet to the Demographics, Telerate, Inc., insidious spread of the Newhouse empire. Schiffrin is the one that no one at RH ever mentions; his 29 years as head of the Pantheon imprint is erased from corporate memory. Little wonder. L' Affaire Schiffrin was the biggest upset in American publishing since Salman Rushdie. It began in January 1990 shortlyatter Vitale's arrival. For nearly 50 years, Pantheon had been unique in commercial publishing, providing an enclave of accessible, intellectual seriousness in an industry going blind as one eye strained towards Wall Street, the other towards Madison Avenue. It published E. P. Thompson's The Making ofthe English Working Class and David Wyman's The Abandonment of The Jews. Its authors included Gunter Grass, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Marguerite Duras, Michel Foucault and Noam Chomsky as well as Monty Python, all the works of Studs Terkel and Art Speigelman's comic examination of the Holocaust, Maus. New ideas rarely make money: new writers present risks, and Pantheon was not impervious to market vagaries. Sometimes the imprint went into the red by the odd million, sometimes it broke even. It was not, however, the greatest of risks for a billionaire proprietor reckoned to be among the five richest men in America. But, then, the days of civic virtue were over. Nor was the pressure purely financial. Schiffrin was led to understand that "Random management" felt

international marketing services, economic reviews (including For Eastern Economic Review), Ottaway Newspapers (a wholly owned subsidiary which publishes 23 daily community newspapers), a joint venture in Bear Island Paper Ca. and information services in Asia, Europe, and South America. Dow Jones also broadcasts radio and television new;~:~~~~'e of Business," as the lourna/iscalled, is always editorially conservative and saturated with lingo-laden financial news. OccaSionally, there will be an admirable in-depth piece thrown in. But, according to a Columbia Journalism Review study, more than half of the Journal's news stories in one issue ·were based solely on press releases." 2) USA Today-l,46S,936 Owner: Gannett Co. Inc. Group. Gannett also owns 77 daily (some Sunday) newspapers across the country, non-daily publications in 21 states, the magazine USA BAFFLER·

97


WEEKEND, 10 television stations, 15 radio stations, and the largest outdoor advertising company in North America. Gannell has shared boards of directors with Merrill Lynch, Standard Oil of Ohio, 20th-Century Fox, KerrMcGee (oil, gas, nuclear power, aerospace), McDannell Douglas, Kellogg, and others. Top Gannell boss, AI Neuharth, said 路Wall Street didn't give a damn if we put together a good paper in Niagara Falls. They just wanted to know if our profits would be in the 15-20 percent range." Only in America has there been such a successful allemptto transfer TV into newsprint. USA Todoy, chock-full of neon, is filled with articles that read like (and are about as long as) the sides of cereal boxes. And for those of you who watch Entertainment Tonight, this seems to be the paper where the daily transcript is included. 3) The New York Time~ 1,114,905 The New York Times Company Group. The NYT Company owns half The International Herald-Tribune, and wholly owns The Boston Globe, 22 dailies in the East and Sautheast, Bnon-dailies in Florida, Geargia, Maine, Mississippi and Tennessee, 1B magazines (including McCall's, Family Circle, and, oh yeah, many golf magazines), 5 TV and 2 radio stations. It has equity interests in two Canadian newsprint mills and a partnership interest in Madison Paper Industries, which produces

98路

BAFFLER

Pantheon was publishing too many left wing books. Perhaps these could be balanced by some right wing volumes? As Publisher's Weekly pointed out in an editorial which incensed Vitale: "True publishers publish what they believe in. In America today, the general consensus, as reflected in the media, is one of complacent, often jingoistic, enjoyment of power. The valuable task of the critic, and the publisher of that critic, is always to question that complacency and power." A great society, the article continued, should encourage, not seek to muffle, its critics. "No true publisher should feel he has to offer a balance to his customers." In the end, it was the bank balance rather than the political balance that did for Schiffrin. Vitale was insistent; Schiffrin would have to chop his list by twothirds or else. So Schiffrin left. So did his authors and five senior editors. Studs Terkel and Kurt Vonnegut donned sou'westers and manned a picket line in protest. The press howled in outrage, Vitale was furious, Schiffrin determined. Armed with severance pay, he spent the following twelve months raising several million dollars from the MacArthur, Rockefeller, Aaron Diamond and Andy Warhol foundations and began setting up afresh. Last year, armed with the resources usually available only to big commercial houses, he set up The New Press. It is Schiffrin's attempt to stop what he sees as a wider, more sinister development across America-the increasing market censorship of ideas. If the major publishing houses won't print less than 15,000-20,000 copies for fear of losing money, who will publish the new Chomsky, or Hobsbawm, or T erkel? T rue, America is dotted with hundred ofsmall, academic presses, but are new and challenging books to be consigned to tiny print runs, limited distribution and expensive price tags? The question is, Schiffrin says, pausing to stroke his tawny beard, "Do we want these conglomerates to control and limit our access to knowledge and information? "I think there's a feeling that the culture can't afford the kind of market censorship that we're getting


in publishing... If you say that every idea has to prove beforehand that it can pay its own way, you're not only censoring ideas but you're by definition creating a kind of conservative output. You're feeding into received ideas." That mainstream publishing feeds straight into a received publicity machine also rankles. Little wonder that RH books are regularly reviewed or their authors profiled in Vanity Fair or Vogue, for Newhouse owns them too. "RH has cornered the review space," says Schiffrin. "It's stultifying." So far The New Yorker has reviewed one of The New Press's 30 books. The New York Times has managed a few more, but its literary editor Rebecca Sinkler admits space for books is squeezed. The Saturday review has been scrapped, resulting in six fewer reviews a week--'-300 fewer books a year. She doesn't have to mention the tricky relationship between advertising and reviews. Or the fact that most big publishers pay a discreet "display fee" to the book chains to exhibit their tomes-which serves to knock the smaller publisher even further out of the frame. Meanwhile back on E. 50th St. where Alfred A. Knopf refused the Scarsdale Diet Book because he felt it would demean his readers, Barbara Taylor Bradford has put aside five days to sign 5,000 copies of her latest book. And Sonny Mehta wrestles with how to promote Oprah Winfrey's forthcoming autobiography. Normally her chat show is awash with authors promoting their books, but then she can hardly interview herself. Or can she?

In the year and a halfsince this article appeared in England, conglomerate control o/the American publishing industry has only tightened The imprints Ticknor & Fields, Poseidon, and Atheneum-all owned by conglomerates-have been unceremoniously shut down, and distinguished firms under conglomerate ownership, like Harcourt Brace and Alfred A. Knopf, have seen their trade divisions cut dramatically and senior editors fired

supercalendered paper for magazine. One of these is called the New York Times Forest Products Group. The DPoper of Record" is on extremely influential institution with connections to government and business. The board of directors includes the ex-CEO of Phelps Dodge, a company involved in uranium mining, and directors of banks which have credited many nuclear-energy projects. The board has also been interlocked with Merck, Morgan Guaranty Trust, Bristol Myers, Charter Oil, American Express, Bethlehem Steel, IBM, Scott Paper, and, of course, many others. 4) Los Angeles Times1,089,690路 Owner: Times-Mirror Co. This company also owns Long Island Newsday, New York Newsday, Baltimore Sun Newspapers, and 4 other dailies. It also owns cable systems, book publishing, ogriculturalland, urban real estate, printing plants and other non-journalistic items. Its newspapers have a combined daily circulation of more than 3 million. 5) Washington PosH 10,675 Washington Post Company Group. Washington Post Company Group owns Newsweek, Inc. (which publishes Newsweek) the PostNewsweek Cable Division, 4 television stations, 4television stations, Terminal Warehouse Co., The Everett (WA) Herald, Kaplan Educational Test Prep, and owns BAFFLER路

99


50% of The International HeraldTribune, 50% of the L.A. TimesWashington Post News Service, 26% of Cowles Media Company, a third interest in Timberlands Co., and half of Bowater Mercey Paper Co. in Canada. The Post, as one might expect, has extensive connections with government. Catherine Graham, the chair of the company, has been longtime friends with Nancy Reagan and others and has said,"There are some things the general public does not need to know and shouldn't." 6} New York Daily New~ 753,024 U.S. News and World Report Group The Daily News was bought from the Tribune Company and is the relatively new baby of Mort Zuckerman (who is the copublisher). Besides a real estate mogut Zuckerman is the editorin-chief of U.s. News and World Report. He also sits on the board of Atlantic Monthly, Ine., the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and is the chairman of Boston Properties. After buying the News, Zuckerman promptly engaged in union busting and was accused of raeist firings. 7} Long Island/New York Newsday-693,556 (eire. -7.26% from a year ago) Times-Mirror Co. Referenced above under L.A. Times. B} Chicago Tribune-67B,OBI Tribune Company Group. This group owns Bdailies

100 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER

L'affaire Holt Damon Krukowski The shameful story spelled out in the following pages began innocently enough-armed with little else but a slightly clever premise for a catalogue of our books, we at Exact Change set off to make as big a splash as we could at the annual American Bookseller's Association (ABA) convention in May 1993. Our catalogue-an imitation of an old fold-out postcard booklet depicting all the covers to Out books-was well received among those who came by our booth, which was huddled together with other independent publishers in an aisle near the back exit of the enormous convention hall. A few months later, in September 1993, a friend sent us a copy of a catalogue he had just received in the mail from Henry Holt and Co., New York. He thought we might be interested, because Holt's new fiction catalogue was an imitation of an old fold-out postcard booklet depicting all the covers to their books .. .in color. Our letters to Holt were certainly snide, and grew snider as their denials grew louder, but they got the last laugh: a full-page feature in the widely read industry journal, Publisher's Weekly, touting their clever and original catalogue design (Holt is a regular advertiser in Publisher's Weekly, and often buys the cover to promote their list). The best quote in the article comes from Holt's designer, who, when asked whether they are going to make this new catalogue design a tradition, replies, "We don't want to be derivative." Instead, she volunteers, they would like "to start a tradition where every season booksellers could look forward to receiving something ... cutting edge." (italics mine.)


E

EX.",CT CHANGE

PO BOX iH C.\}(BRIDGE, !otA 01139

William S"od'On Editorial OireclOr Henry Holt and Company

liS W... 181h 5..., N.. Yon. NY 10011

s.p..... bor 21.

1993

Doct Mr. S_hon.

~:=~,~s ~~.~:'iw.:;:~= ~~i:J:;~~~~~:J~ ~~~t~r foil Nut lim. you wont to do 0 deoter c:otal9gue why not call us and w.'lIitink up $Omelhing original

~: jul/lOr )Ou. Or wait a season ~for. ripping u~ off, so we hove time to move on to som«hing ~

don't get any funny idtas about Ihis stationary.

Damon KrulQllrNski

Editor

Irq

end:

Silv.ro.rg

Exact Chonge fall '93 catalogue (May 19931

W,II"",B S'nch".

"'......w. . . . .

~.~c

A._,...

October 15. 1993 Ks. "40111 Yana and Mr. Oaaon K.rukowski Exac: c: Chanl_ P . O. Sox S44 Caabridge. KA 0213~

Dear Ka. Tana and !ir . Krukowski:

Feal better now? I'. flattered that you think ve could raave quickly enough to copy your brochure afur the Ii:JA. but in fact I had not s .. n it bdore you •• nt it to ••• Our "inspiration" vas derived frOil our frequent usa of postcards to publicize individual books; we decided to adapt the collections poatcard aanufacturer. often u •• to feature a scenic location. Aa 1'1:10 sure Ma. Yanl is aware. the tOt'1l 15 also us.d routinely by ca-.t'etal artists to shovc.ase thdr york. and our Art Director has no shortage of versions of them.

Th. point of all these .fforts 15 pra.otion.

I don' e chink. dehet' of ua has a clala on thh idea; originaUty is found in the books we publish. Slncerely.

around the country, including The Columbio Tribune (MO), News and Sun Sentinel Co., Sentinel Communications, Tribune Media Services, 7television stations (including WPIX in New York), 4 radio stations, atelevision programming company, the Chicago cubs baseball team and the aand 0 Paper Co. in Canada which produces $462 millian in newsprint and forest products. During the Iran/Contra Scandal, Chicago Tribune editor James Squires warned his reporters not to repeat the "excesses" of Watergate. Nuff said. 9) Detroit Free Press544,606 Knight-Ridder Newspapers Inc. Group. Knight-Ridder owns 28 dailies around the country, including 3 of the top 20 doilies in circulation, making its combined circulation around 2 million doily. In terms of circulation it isthe second largest chain, after Ganne", in the country. When a chain buys a paper some of the first things they do are trim-down on the staff and replace them with many different wireservices. While this allows international news for some smaller papers, an obvious consequence is thaI mony, many papers publish the SAME stories wilh the SAME angle, opinion, coverage. 10) Son Francisco Chronicle509,548 (-6.38% circ.lhan a year ago) Hearst Newspapers.

William Strachan

BAFFLER •

101


E

EX.\.CT CHANGE

Hearst also owns The Sunday S.F. Exominer ond Chronicle, The Houston Chronicle, The Seoffle Post·lntelligencer, 10 other doilies, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Harper's Bozaor, Town and Country, Redbook, and Popular Mechanics, 17 monthly consumer magazines, more than 20 business publications, 17 television and radio stations, 2 book companies (including William Morrow and Co.), is also partners in lifetime and A&E, and owns King Features, as well as real estate in San Francisco, Moine, and Canada and the National Magazine Co., ltd. in the U.K. Founded by William Randolph Hearst ("Citizen Hearst") who helped create the Spanish.American War in 1898, Billy Graham in 1950 (who preoched "Either Communism must die, or Christianity must die"), and Senator McCarthy. Now run by his son, W. R. Hearst, Jr., who was a personal friend of McCarthy. The dangers of conglomerated media power were in many ways proven by Hearst and his partner Henry luce, who virtually created a national atmosphere of paranoia in the 1950's. 11) Boston Globif-507,647" New York Times Company Group. This paper was purchased by the NYT Company Group last year after having been family·owned for decades. 12) Dallas Morning·New~ 491 ,480 A.H. Bela Corporation

102 •

BAFFLER

PO BOX ; u

C.-\MBRIOCE. :'>IA 01139

William Strachan Editorial OlreclOr

7~~,'m,~=ny NMlt yon:, NY 10011

Oc_18. 1993 Dear MI. SlrocMc;m,

dOCt

V_. poKord book.hov••xis-.d Pf~ou.Jy. but 10 "'Y !his was a eointidenc. fftOHy slrains pIaVsibilit.;onlid. detail, 01 the tearing (rOl.ln meith•• ours yet WI! drew ayf

::fJIWn

=~:':~tt:,a::~~~.lheolcx;~tu:oI~~a:lorhetQ" ptomot. Qline of flclion lilt•• allrade snow •. If you had~an"ed Ihis before ABA. why didn', you "'.. it

th.,.. to promo.. your fall list flstl't lhat what ABA is fort'

W. found 'fC'lX I-.r I~ IMft grcx:iOUl. Her•• hoping our next encoun. i. und.r better

circumslal"lC."

'y

,1

IV ..... ~1 Domon Krukowski Editor

Naom iYa~ DeSign..

Ira SilY ....berg

r;r; :

HENlY

HOLT

I

(

'.h:

U

Q

AND J

l

I

,

(OMPA.Y ,

Ii

III

0

.... 1, II ... It / U / U

1·.""_"".... ""............ . . , . . _".. ....

MlI.b... k_ ....""" ... "..,..--..wilhr~ .... HoIo"l_loW ..... . . 1.... bJ~' .. "'~.. _,,\J_~_~ .... ' .... k.. nl~...,1iIn-I hoI~... bk.... _ .. I ...... iooWlW .... loIIdooo, .. ,...".,fIIr_

Iw_....

_I . __

_11,. .... 1......... _ ....... ·-.".· ..... _ f . . . i\oIoi ..

••

LlpoU"..,............ ..,., .....kt <lisl" ... "" . . . k .. "" .. lpoU.IHllIho ........... rI.., .... wot

.................... "- .....

_J~

.......

~

lUIIIliItr\i........ ""'........... """"' ........ W""" ... w<lfyioo

_MlIoti._\ .... JItIIII ..... ""yoa1 .... lhtpr_~1IiidI .... 1oW ... lotIr.<Iis .............. - . - ...... _ r l ....... ............ " """'fttp.AsI... •.... ,.... ... lht iI.... """tlioo

~I·• ....,""~" ... ".. ..... k_~ ..... '"".k .. ..

....... ""' .. n.II .............. " ................ rlftik Ihoior\tilfly.-4.iift_""rlIIop ......... IhoI<lisIlo, .....

·.toitn ""'ni<.""·

..... _ ·. .. I _ . . _ W ... i o o . " . -.. " " _

... hislrr""" .... _~ ..b ................t •• HJ..I<.......,.;, ... ..ru btIItr•• ""II"", iIt.lha, ""' I••. """ ... oy ,... ..._ ..... l ...... "" .. IIm" .... i1rtmiO"' .. .., ... " ' nil, be.... iI«nII, betmI,.. usN it So """·1.""'" "" "" ... """",1 &.. ......

...,"",.1t

1Iw.·' ...... "" ................ I .. _.lIoslotm" ........ I ...\.ioolttll_<Iis

,..Ip\""',..w"" .... ~ .... ""6In'I_'"1ho1'Ilr.oyit"'!Iri

""....,,,..,""ntIy .......... __ ..\. ""r!kIoosIy_ .... rI""hltnlt .... r.

y... ;... .. ....,., ........... "..bttuIfuI,om.

!MI., .... jjj ...... W 1011011.. wh.. l&S ......... H_ ";1Is",,,.... i,

""" ..............••• .., ............... """ ...."'IM<""' ......,whoI<Iis ~"'knowl"I........ """' ... " _ AsfcrYOllSllllonwy-4I111',you_rynowl

~,~-~~

[clilSlr,dlan lJIscIIoftShO.. ~.s;",""1 III .. ISI 111M 11I1 1f, 'l" TUI. U

; ~Oll.

m

(f111 IU-UI4.

rn- !1111

ill ·tlll


E

EXACT CHANGE

P,O. BOX 14' CAMBRIDGE, MA 01139

WilUom Srrochon

m. ~;~,

RaqvoIla<am;lI.

~rsw~'

N_Y..... NY 10011 N......

w 2. 1993

=i"

Dear MI. $lroc:hon and Ms. Jaramillo.

How Is it you tell",s tro -eas. up a bit,· insNod of off.,ing (JfI ap~~ Is it your roI. in this instanc. to 'eeM. UI obotJ, out response 10 what you kove now admi!ted WQI flnt of all rln Ms. JorcmiQo', COlli) on obvious bit of !heft and Nv. St-achan's COM) a blalian, denial of .... INth• .-;th "'opoc:' ..,boII;""'-b twt.at ...... "plonnod bofo<o AlIA" "'9umon~1 Why don't you Ihi"k about yo.x proper r-.pen. inwod 01 our.t Oun i, "'fir~ up to us, and c.auMd 01 it i, by 'fO'$ Gar.... use of our malilrial. your problem 10 deal w irh. Your indignation 01 our r..ponse seem. to moke it nlClIUOty 10 point out ogain. now thai you admit you hod our work in hand whltl you did YOU"', thot you copi.d it in ",. .am• •fIOIOft we were uling ours. In otf,., word. many will r«.we yoIotn befor. ours, although your id.a was d.arly execuMd in imilollon of oun. And sincelhe ."1It1 of a -gimmick,· os you call it, dep."d. in port on naY.lty and originoliry to caplVre ollrltltion. !he eH.c1 of Dun is obvioudy comprom iYd by yours. In olher WOf"d. you fouled (N'.ffom, and 011 yOl.l do...hen we poin, it OI.It (wi;' some humor, we Ihough~ i. indignonlty deny it, ortd !hen indisnonlty con!.u to il. Since you make weh liberal 1.1'" of your fil••• ...,doted ii something for you 10 pull out next lime !hi s nopp.rlt (after next ABAi) and soy once ogoin. ·You mean lik. rhisi-.

/

~~; I.('~ Y

Noomi Yang

V

cc: Ira Silverb"g wirh enclosur.

(1ndooecI with Ie"- of _ _.... 2 . 19931 F_ th..... of I-IoeNy Holt & C.., cou""", oIlxact Change:

Ooa, (

Please und ••tand lhat OW' company'. Ute of yovt brochllr. as a model was. in part. inadvertent, although we recogniz. no"";".l." the damave itlfKJu do 10 you in )'OUr mOf'kering .fforts. and I dor.toy to us oslhe perpefrotDtt 01 pk,giori"". But intolor os it was cMlibel'o... a. it no doubt was for at leo" some members 01 our .talf. !hat it i. inaxculObl. and w. w~1 toke dilciplinory Of:Kon wilhin our f:ompony 10 MIt mattw, right. In iv. regard I would lik. M) thonk you for colling to my oltWtlion !he Noppy. weU-nigh ilegol oc:ltvilMl of my wff.

w. ....

AI for what wtI can do to mok. amends. I am afraid I am at a lou at th. domag. is already don.,

f: :::~~:·i~· t~:t:.~t!,::l~~:::~ :~~i~ :~~~r~ ~o~ :~~dw: t:~~~~~.

and hope Ihot OI,Ir brochur. gets in your way a,lillle o. po$liblei Please let me know. o. I am in this molter ..,rirJy at your disposal and feel frvsrrallld thot at this moment I can off.- only my sincer." Op040giel whicn, I knowo. mu.' be cold comfort. bur which. I wspect from th. humor and grace I det.c:r in 'fOAM I. . . may not fa. on deal «I~

A.H. Bela owns Dallas-Ft. Worth Suburban Newspapers, 7 community papers, 5TV stations around the country, ond 50% of a TV production company. The Dallas Morning-News once fired a reporter who did a piece on a preS&L bonk which was floundering. The reporter and the editor who okayed the piece were never rehired~ven though the bonk folded two weeks after the piece was published. Also, according to one study, the Morning-News was one of the first papers to toke real estate reporting out of the hands of reporters and straight into the advertising department. 12) Philadelphia Inquirer478,999 Knight-Ridder. Referenced under Detroit Free Press. 14) Newark (NJ) StorLedger---473,553* Owner: Newhouse Newspapers; Parent: Advance (Newhouse) Publications, Inc. Newhouse Newspapers own 19 doily or Sunday papers across the country including The Cleveland Plain-Dealer. Its subsidiaries include Booth Newspapers (7 papers), Alabama Group (3 papers), and UNTY which owns papers in New York and New Jersey. Advance Publications owns Conde Nast Publications, which publishes Allure, The New Yorker, Conde Nast Traveler, Details, GO, House and Garden, Mademoiselle, Vanity Fair, and Vague. It also owns Random House (approx.

BAFFLER-I03


sales: 1 billion}. Random House imprints include Fodor's, Fawcett, Ballentine, Times Books, Pantheon, Crown, and Knopf as an affiliate. Si Newhouse was friends with none other than Roy Cohn. Looking at what is owned by Newhouse makes the term uguilly by association" take on a new, quite ominous, meaning. IS} Houston Chronicle413,448* Hearst. 16} Minneapolis StarTribune-41 0,754 * Owner: Cowles Media Company. Subsidiaries include Cowles Magazines, Scottsdale Publishing, and Cowles Media Business Co., and Cowles is more than a quarter owned by The Washington Post Company Group. Cowles owns only one other paper-the Scottsdale {Al} Progress. 17} Miami Herald-403,555* Knight-Ridder. Under Detroit Free-Press. 18} Clevelond Plain-Dealer395,791 * Newhouse. Under Newark Star-Ledger. 19} New York Post-394,431 * Owner: News America Publishing; Parent: The News Corporation, Ltd. CEO: Rupert Murdoch In the U.S., Murdoch also owns, among many other things, The San Antonio Express-News, TV Guide, Mirabella, Fox Broadcasting Corp., Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 8 major TV stations

104 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER

The Selling ofKatie Roiphe Jennifer Gonnerman It was the beginning of the '90s and The New York Times needed a woman. Not just any woman, though. It needed a smart and sassy one. Someone who could buttress the paper's sagging image. Someone who could catapult the Times to the forefront of the sexual politics debate. Someone who could put a young, fresh face on the Gray Lady's old-fashioned views. So it created her. Katie Roiphe, 25, could not have asked for a better public relations agent. When her first book, The Morning After: Sex, Fear and Feminism on Campus, came out in September 1993, she received more media attention than most writers get in a lifetime. Ultimately, The Times 'months-long promotion ofRoiphe's book translated into more than 300 book reviews, interviews, excerpts, and features in publications ranging from the St. Louis Post Dispatch to the Toronto Star, from Playboy to Mirabella, from the Jerusalem Postto the Irish Times. The Morning After offers a scathing critique of current sexual politics. Roiphe's provocative conclusion: the 'rape crisis movement' sweeping college campuses is a fraud. Roiphe scoffs at the claim that 1 in 4 college women have been raped and she ridicules young feminists for wallowing in their own 'victimization.' A Princeton graduate student, Roiphe rails against "Take Back the Night" speak-outs where young women stand before a microphone and tell stories of rape and abuse to an audience of hundreds. Roiphe recalls feeling "perplexed" and "annoyed" watching her peers share the painful, intimate details of their lives. Throughout The Morning After, Roiphe paints herself as a campus outsider, a dissenting voice among the "politically correct" masses. She even closes her book wi th the comment that" sometimes it is even your friends you have to fight." But as The Times promoted Roiphe's book and controversy ensued, any distinction between commentator and spokesperson collapsed.


Roiphe played both roles. As the only young woman permitted in the date rape debate, Roiphe became the (with 140 affiliates and growing), leading "authority" on this 'rape crisis movement'-as Harper-Collins Publishing, Barnes and Noble bookstores, a well as its loudest critic.

The Times 'creation ofRoiphe-as-controversy-stirrer dates from before the release of The Morning After. In November 1991, The Times published "Date Rape Hysteria," a 680-word op-ed piece by Roiphe. Later, in an interview accompanying The Times review of her book, Roiphe nodded politely to her benefactors when she credited her decision to write The Morning After with the response her op-ed piece had generated. But, to those who missed her op-ed piece, it seemed Katie Roiphe had shot out of nowhere when on June 13, 1993 The New York Times Sunday Magazine plastered her story on its front cover. "Date Rape's Other Victim," the magazine's 4700-word excerpt of her book, was an author's dream come true. Suddenly, Roiphe's ideas were on more than 1. 5 million coffee tables across the country, and reviews of her book were appearing everywhere. In September 1993, The Times made Roiphe their cover girl allover again. A page one review by Wendy Kaminer in the Sunday Book Review lauded The Morn-

. Alft "b " d" "If b k' . d er as rave an . ne~. a 00 IS revlewe In the Sunday Book ReVieW, It means that hundreds of ~ng

bookstores across the country automatically order it. If it is well-received on page one, bookstores will not only rush to get copies of it, but they will display it prominently. This is what happened with The MorningAfter. Two months later, The Timescontinued its Roiphe promotional campaign when it ran a cozy motherdaughter interview on the first page of its "Living" section. The shameless gushing of "At Lunch with Anne and Katie Roiphe" officially crowned Katie with

.

.

'h

.

ceIebnty status. In her openIng paragraph, T, e Ttmes . d bb d K . h" . I .. I h d' wnter u e atle t e ~ocla cntlc-s as ~pro Igy at the center of the most Intense debate SInce Betty Friedan pitched a fit about lesbians two decades ago." By"intense," The Times meant that it had been covered in The Times. After the magazine cover story and the

newspaper insert company, Delphi Internet Services Corp., Fox Video, Educational Publishing, Basic Books, Benson Music Group, the Zondervan Corporation (publisher and distributor of Christian books and music, including 82 religious bookstores), Ballinger Publishing Co., and nonvoting shares of New World (12 TV stations). The Boston Heraldwas just bought by the president of News America Ltd., not a very for cry from Rupert himself. Murdoch is, of course, CEO of the parent firm, News Corporation Ltd. of Australia, which owns Star TV in Hong Kong (which broadcasts satellite programming into China and India, a damn huge market), B Sky B(another satellite network throughout Europe), many truly revolting tabloids in England, and other media holdings around the world, including Fox Video in Spain the Far East France Germ~ny UK New' Zealand and the South Pa:ific. ' What can one say? Murdoch is probably the only media mogul that has consistently been covered in the press(probably because of his. reactionary, "I'm The Man" ath!ude}. The New ~ork Post,. baSICally a conservative tablOid, was recently kept by Murdoch on a "t "b' th h emporary am even oug FCC regulations forbade it because of his Fox ownership. The asset level of all his holdings is in the double-digit billions and, quite BAFFLER路

105


unfortunately, his media holdings have reactionary and conservative agendas as seen especially in The New York Post and his London newspapers. Like a Hearst, Murdoch doesn't pretend to have much of a conceit about fairness or responsibility and uses his global network to espouse his own rather unsophisticated political agenda. When asked how he influences the editorial postures of his media holdings, he said: ¡Considerably.. .The buck stops on my desk: 20) San-Diego UnionTribune--383,827 Copley Newspaper Group Press, Inc. Copley also owns 10 other newspapers in Illinois and California and the Union-Tribune Publishing Company.

page one book review, The TimeS commentary on the size and significance of the Roiphe controversy became only an exercise in self-congratulation-a nod to its own ability to manufacture controversy with far-reaching influence.

F rom hundreds of feminist writers vying for exposure, The Times had carefully selected one. A young female embodiment of Timesvalues, Roiphe came with all the proper credentials: an upbringing in a liberalintellectual Manhattan family plus diplomas from Brearley (an exclusive East Side girls school) and Harvard. Roiphe also possessed the requisite connections, including a writer-mom who has a two-decade history with The Times. Dozens ofAnne Roiphe's book reviews and articles have appeared in The Times and her reputation as a respected feminist writer (her late-1960s novel, Up the Sandbox, chronicled a housewife's fantasy world) boosted the younger Roiphe's authority as a commentator on the new feminist generation. In late 1993, with the Mike Tyson and William Kennedy Smith cases still fresh in the public's memory, The Times tossed Roiphe into the murky waters of the * * * date rape debate. The Times' edited version of her ideas Look! I'm All Glue-sooked and Rag-log: provided a simple, and seemingly authoritative, explanation for an otherwise sticky dilemma: date rape really I'm an Authentic Fanzine! does not happen all that often and, even when it does, it is not only the man's fault. Never mind that Roiphe Steve Laymon had become a symbol for an idea far more simplistic The entertainment industry is than what she was actually saying. While she criticized often depicted as an enormous other feminist debates for being too black-and-white, machine that gobbles up culture, this is precisely what happened with the debate over her filters out all impurities, and own book. produces an odorless, colorless, and By making Katie Roiphe the new celebrity femiflavorless liquid refreshment that nist, The Times aimed to create the illusion of being on pours from taps all over America. the cutting edge of sexual politics. Its discovery and But only after the syrup is in the single-handed championing of this latest variety of pipe does the important work of the feminism may have ostensibly served to 'further derecord industry become dear: it bate,' but it actually did little more than prop up The must convi nee us (over and over again) that the product is so tasty we Times'long-standing opposition to feminism's more can't forget to line-up each night at radical strains. Coming out of the mouth of a young, self-proclaimed feminist, the idea that date rape is the

106 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


product of young women's hysteria had legitimacy.

The TimeS extensive promotion ofRoiphe's ideas eventually made them seem worthy of export. In J anuary 1994, the London Sunday Times editor, Andrew Neil, brought Katie Roiphe, Erica Jong, and Naomi Wolf together in England for a debate on The Morning After. The result was, by most accounts, a complete flop. The debate hall was packed with fuming English feminists (none had been invited to join the panel which included only one English representative: a man). And the debate's organizers had failed to ask the most basic questions: How much sense do Roiphe's arguments make in a country where, until very recently, the concept ofdate rape did not even exist? How interesting could Roiphe's railing against 'victim feminism' be to an English audience when "Take Back the Night" speak-outs-Roiphe's key example of this phenomenon-are not held in England? Even Roiphe herself readily admitted to The Guardian that The Morning After is only a "limited record of the sexual pressures on American campuses." But, for the most part, the English media did not seem to worry much about the relevance of Roiphe's arguments. As her ideas had worked to served a deeper purpose for the New York Times, so they did for the British press, which gleefully promoted what The Independentcalled "Hot American Feminists." The effect of glamorizing these women, of printing lengthy interviews and glossy color photos, was three-fold. It not only packed a debate hall and helped sell books, magazines, and newspapers, but it also put English feminists-the ones most likely to have a lasting impactin check. The handful of English feminists with access to the major daily papers fought back. Feminist writer Joan Smith told The Observer, "They [Roiphe, Wolf, and Jong] were charming, very marketable, perfect for television and the U.S. lecture circuit. But that has propelled them to a prominence unjustified by the quality of their ideas."

the faucet to fill our cups to overflowing. The entertainment industry engages in a type of parasitism wherein it redirects to its purposes the energies of cultural production going on outside its direct ownership or control. In this basic operation the record companies, film production companies, and marketers of multifarious lifestyle accoutrements find all too Willing fellow travellers in the corporate owned media. With a minimum of effort, the pied-pipers of the culture business persuade ostensibly objective news organizations to help peddle their products: every day of the week finds some "music critic" or "entertainment reporter" mechanically regurgitating the flowery praise penned by the marketing department at Warner Brothers (or Sony, or Disney, or MCA). Afamiliar operation oils the gears of the synergetic machine: the promotional package. These glossy, multi-media cu~ure-gift-sacks offer photos, quotes, biographicalsketches, and free copies af the product in question to the willing entertainment hacks at the New York Times, Newsweekand NBC News, and at thousands of local newspapers and television stations, saving them the trouble of researching a story. This panders to the laziness of most reporters--those Waodwards and Bernsteins in bathrobes, who scurry to their mailboxes in anticipation of that envelope from some helping-hand in Burbank, complete with a CD they can trade as soon as the press kit is safely transcribed into copy. This BAFFLER â&#x20AC;˘

107


cheers producers and editors; who know that programming time and blank pages need to be filled-up as inexpensively as possible. Nor has the entertainment industry missed the college trick. Student newspapers, campus concert committees and low-watt college radio stations are easy marks for the wooing of the entertainment conglomerates. Even more than the seasoned hacks of the commercial media, campus scribes and music directors love the feeling of specialness the promotional gift confers. Every time they open a package crammed full of free CDs and insider-info they hear the bigshots in LA and New York whispering in their ear: BWelcome to the club!" Marketers of every stripe take advantage of campus emporia not only to sell product to this coveted demographic group, but also to learn from it. The unprecedented success of the Nirvana phenomenon has only confirmed the perspicocity of this approach. The story of the band's quick rise from Sub Pop collegeradio darlings to platinum-selling media superstars under the tutelage of David Geffen has become the central mUSic-industry myth of the nineties. Nirvana mapped out a new route to the top, and recent successes by Green Day, the Offspring, and other mall-bred pop-punk ensembles reaffirm the idea: college kids can be whipped into a froth. But there are always a few unpredictable little fucks who seem resistant to the bliSS-inducing electrical jolts up the kazoo offered by the music industry machine. Not

108 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER

Meanwhile, journalist Maureen Freely said in The Guardian, "They assume the whole world is middleclass and college educated." The undeniable elitism of Roiphe's approach-the fact that she draws conclusions only from her own Ivy League experiences-is less glossed over in England where only 10% of the population attends university (compared with 25% in the U.S.) and class consciousness is far greater. In the debate following the debate, English feminists agreed that Roiphe's arguments held little relevance. The American media, however, failed to consider that perhaps The MorningAfteris not all that important a book even for this country. The New York Times had put Roiphe's book on the front of its book review section, automatically bestowing it with considerable significance-and making it a frequent subject ofcocktail party chatter. In her favorable review, Times critic Wendy Kaminer said Roiphe "reports on speak-outs, sexual behavior workshops and feminist orthodoxies." In fact, Roiphe does little which even verges on reporting. In her introduction, Roiphe even admits: "The book is not a scientific survey of campus life .. .1 have written my impressions." Nonetheless, the media immediately took up The Morning After as accurate documentation of a nation-wide phenomenon. "Take Back the Night" speak-outs had never before received substantial media attention, despite the fact that they had been one of the best-attended political events on many campuses for the last decade. Consequently, Roiphe's impressions as she sat in her dorm window peering down at her peers determined how speak-outs were to be etched in the public consciousness. Established journalists-most ofwhom have not set foot on a college campus in years-took Roiphe' s sketch of campus life at face value. From it, they drew their own sweeping conclusions about date rape, third wave feminism, 90s love, and campus activism. Ultimately, Roiphe's personal impressions defined the terms-and, more significantly, the limits---ofthe date rape debate.


In the mainstream media, virtually no twentysomething women got the chance to respond to Roiphe. No rebuttals by 'rape crisis feminists'--who Roiphe claims instill a sense of fear and vulnerability in younger female students-appeared on The Times oped page. The result was a strangely one-sided national debate pitting faceless 'rape crisis feminists' against everyone else. The discussion could have been interesting had it moved away from a handful of elite college campuses and asked probing questions about how everyone else-the vast rna)' ority of the countrynegotiates sex. But, in the wake of the book's release and its promotion by The Times, the nation's commentators could write of little else. So much for affordable day care and equal pay for equal work. The excesses of Roiphe's 'rape crisis feminists'-combined with Antioch's controversial sex rules--commanded more media attention than either of those age-old issues. Katie Roiphe sells. At least that was the thinking behind her marketing and promotion. Only, in this case, not too many people actually bought the hardcover version of The Morning After. Little, Brown's marketing director described hardcover sales as "disappointing." But, from The Times' point of view, this was irrelevant. The TimeS promotion of Roiphe was intended to sell her ideas and to manufacture controversy. And The Times succeeded. After receiving far more than her fifteen minutes of fame, Roiphe has all but drifted into obscurity. Minimal fanfare greeted the recent publication of her paperback and, for at least the moment, the date rape debate has been put on the media's back burner. Now Roiphe herself is left wondering exactly what happened and why. In the new introduction to The Morning After paperback, she writes, "I don't think there is .. .in the pages of this book, anything worthy of the fury it inspired."

only are these youngsters tynical and difficult to deal with, but they are the very people campus taste-makers want to target: college-radio music directors and program chiefs. They won't buy or play major-label product. They don'ttrust corporate hype-sheets. Their scorn for culture industry bootlicks like Rolling Stone and Spin has driven majorlabels to buy advertising in a host of lesser but more alternative-credible publications, like Raygun, Option, and Alternative Press. But even these self-styled vanguard~ of the alternative margins are suspect because they promise their covers, and pages and pages of text, to major label acts.lndie-kids have always sought uncarrupted frantiers. And their search, predictably, has taken them to fanzines or the internet for authentic opinions. There they find a host of splenetic minicommentators spitting vinegar, sharp-toned criticism and angry denunciations of the half-assed crap that is ordinarily praised as art. To readers accustomed to the bland complacenty of the commercial media, this seems like depth, like honest reflection. These kids, to whom the folks in marketing would eagerly hand the keys to the innerworld of the industry, shun them for a more recherche club, the underground The problem, then, is haw to penetrate these difficult youngsters' cultural sanctum, how to introduce their product (and to enlist their assistance in selling product) without setting off their anti-corporate alarms. Major labels have gone incognito; they have acquired dozens BAFFLER路

109


of previously indie-Iabels simply so the damning logo of WEA or Geffen does not appear on their produd. Luckily, most fanzines are shallow and simple-minded. The multiplication of the genre has generated a surfeit of fanzines blithely willing to reinforce the star-making efforts of major labels. Among the legion of new fanzine writers are a number of star-struck kids, eager to praise--and, Wow!, meet and interview-their corporate rock heroes. All that is left for corporate image makers to do is provide the hagiographies. Robert Pollard qualifies to the extent that he retains a semblance of the oppositional DIY aesthetic that brought Guided by Voices such acclaim. He no longer does. Yet, this needs not cause problems for the image-crew at Matador/Atlantic; they continue to breath life into this collapsing persona. The emperor has no dothes. But college kids, unable to make these meaningful distindions, still wave around their latest issue of Spank! as if it were The Communist Manifesto.

The latest twists in the ongoing courtship of young consumers are as predidable as they are disturbing. The corporate music labels, drawing from a bottomless well of marketing savvy have effortlessly coopted and simulated the media devices that propagate the underground discourse. Label reps go on-line and steer the electronic conversation towards their soon to be released delights. Label staffers post notices on eledronic bulletin boards to boost their artists, taking care to

110 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER

Christmas Colors, Rochester, New York 1. Driving in circles Same strip where three neon bagels stare across a traffic signal: another sign, lit red optician's spectacles, starts us on Gatsby jokes, remembering high school symbolism, colors sayig danger or rebirth. 2. Only Funny Until The kids found a loophole on the ban on gang colors in school: Santa hats. 3. Novelty Postcard The squirrel nibbling a candy cane in the park's printed snow holds it upright (clarinet, microphone) then sideways (flute, corncob) then runs it up an evergreen away from laughing.


4. No Name for this

foreground their cred by carrying on informed discussions about stillRoommates menstruating at the same time independent artists. Companies now is known as the McClintock effect. commonly load product samples on the internet and arrange interactive My brother's roommates appear one breakfast electronic interviews with artists. all four in red sweaters. With astonishing speed, the internet has become simply another media 5. Carbon tricks outlet for corporate pitchmanship. It is altogether easier for labels Photosynthesis: to refashion their promotional backwards respiration. packages to resemble fanzines. One giant ofthe music industry, Warner/ The heme molecule Elektra/Atlantic, seems to lead the pack in this undertaking. It has in mitochondria and hemoglobin created two publications in is ring-shaped. If you replace particular, Dirt and Spew, to catch the eye of college radio music the middle iron atom directors. Their attempts have been painfully awkward. Corporate with magnesium, you get promotions departments seem ill at chlorophyll. ease with the anti-formalism of DIY. They are bemused by the 6. Budget aphrodisiacs valorization of sloppy production values. The marketing chiefs at WEA Sugar fluoresces, wintergreen snaps look at fanzines and see clumsy, cutultraviolet light when struck or bitten. and-paste production techniques, Atomic Fireballs burn cinnamon, then roll slowly to sweetness, staining the tongue.

misspellings, poor hand-drawn

illustrations, and inchoate writing. So that's what they create. In their eyes fanzines are a kind of low-brow 7. Last dance or, what you will folk-art, like those carved-up tires that people turn inside-out and use A papier mache fly circles the bar, as planters. green bulb eyes glowing. This is insulting in its own right. It assumes that the vernacular is a We drink from green bottles language of simple incompetence. under a green ceiling dragon, Even worse, it assumes that the ingenuous discourse of fanzinesdance below a replicated 50's livingroom or, for that matter, any kind of tired of waiting for a good song. creative expression unencumbered with instrumental intentions is naive. But it is also perversely funny, and it - Margaret Young illuminates a paradox inherent to the culture industry. What is BAFFLER â&#x20AC;˘ 111


important is not how big your advertising budget is, it is not how kick-ass your graphics software is, it is nat yaur celebrity contacts with Rollins or Weiland. Command over technology doesn't matter. What matters is how handy you are at duplicating the collaquial teenage skaz. Are you on the inside? Are you-in a word-coo~ Fanzines, hilariously, seem to have profoundly raised such doubts in the promo staff of WEA, Sassy, Urban Outfitters and others, who frantically pluck the little world of self-published opinion sheets out of the trash-basket. But their project is, in fact, a monstrous perversity. At their best, fanzines allow individuals an opportunity to express opinions outside the dictates of the mainstream media. The privileged club of the established media solicit the opinion of the uman-in-the-street" only when some pseudo-democratic, ex-post-facto assent is necessary to confirm the popularity of their own compromised aesthetic predilections. But when the man (or woman) on the street finds his own voic&-ond a willing audience for it-the media must sit up and take notice. And when these voices get uppity, ways and means are called for to turn the tables. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but in this case its larceny. What counts is the legitimate independence and amateurism of these little magazines, because as long as a space for independent thought can be defended, opportunities for making meaningful use of this space will be preserved. WEA's use of fake fanzines to sell their product is an abomination similar in every way to the creation of phony family planning clinics by the radical anti-abortion movement. That the aim of the project is less repulsive does not alter the fact that they are performing the same loathsome operation: purposefully mimicking their opponents' methods in order to strangle the life out of their adversary.

SfblZ ?@s ~FIZ Pe>(llC~!

112 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


Yvette Mimieux in Hit Lady NI I remember is she drives a red sports car and wears an ankh around her neck and is instructed by The Company to bump off some union bigwig because he's scheduled to testify against a Mafioso so she assumes a new identity and starts dating him and naturally he falls madly in love with her not suspecting that this pert blonde sitting on the other side of the pink roses at the fancy restaurant is actually the best assassin in the business but when the time comes to pull the trigger she breaks out in a cold sweat and can't go through with it because all she really wants is to quit The Company and marry her struggling artist boyfriend who's played by Dack Rambo and who of course has no idea she kills people for a living so she slips away and puts her silencer in a storage locker at the airport and flies to this picturesque seaside village in Mexico where Dack paints his unsalable masterpieces and hoping to make a fresh start she tells him everything but it turns out that Dack works for The Company too so he shoots her in the back on the beach and she dies. - David Trinidad

BAFFLER â&#x20AC;˘

113


How Poetry Survives Charles Bernstein In our period, they say there is free speech. They say there is no penalty for poets, There is no penalty for writing poems. They say this. This is the penalty. -Muriel Rukeyser, "In Our Time", The Speed ofDarkness Imagine that all the nationally circulated magazines and all the trade presses and all the university presses in the United States stopped publishing or reviewing poetry. New poetry in the United States would hardly feel the blow. But not because contemporary poetry is marginal to the culture. Quite the contrary, it is these publishing institutions that have made themselves marginal to our cultural life in poetry. As it is, the poetry publishing and reviewing practices of these major media institutions do a disservice to new poetry by their sins of commission as much as omission-that is, pretending to cover what they actually cover up; as if you could bury poetry alive. In consistently acknowledging only the blandest of contemporary verse practices, these institutions provide the perfect alibi for their evasion of poetry. If what is published and reviewed by these institutions is the best that poetry has to offer, then, indeed, there would be little reason to attend to poetry, except for those looking for a last remnant of a genteel society verse, where, for example, Rebecca Pepper Sinkler, the editor of The New York Times Book Review, can swoon over watered-down Dante on her way to late-night suppers with wealthy lovers of the idea of verse, as she recently gushed in an article in the Book Review. "For some" ("We lucky few" is the last sentences of the article) "there was to be a post-poetry spread laid on by Edwin Cohen (a businessman and patron ofliterature) back at his apartment at the Dakota, a Danteesque menu announced in advance: roast suckling pig stuffed with fruit, nuts, and cheese; Tuscan salami; prosciotto and polenta, white beans with fennel." Poetry, reduced to a souvenir of what was once supposed to be prestige goods, quickly gets sliced for overaccessorizing, at least if the stuff actually talks back in ways we haven't heard before. If poetry has largely disappeared from the national media, nostalgia for poetry, and the lives of troubled poets, has a secure place. One of the cliches of the intellectual- and artist-bashing so fashionable in our leading journals of opinion is that there are no more "public intellectuals." The Charles Bernstein s most recent book ofpoems is Dark City, most recent collection ofessays isA Poetics; he recently edited a CD compilation ofpoetry readings at New YorkS Ear Inn called Live at the Ear.

114 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


truth of the matter is that writing of great breadth and depth, and of enormous significance for the public, flourishes, but the dominant media institutionscommercial television and radio, the trade presses, and the nationally circulated magazines (including the culturally upscale periodicals) -have blacklisted this material. Intellectuals and artists committed to the public interest exist in substantial numbers. Their crime is not a lack of accessibility but a refusal to submit to marketplace agendas: the reductive simplifications of conventional forms of representation; the avoidance of formal and thematic complexity; and the fashion ethos of measuring success by sales and value by celebrity. The public sphere is constantly degraded by its conflation with mass scale since public space is accessible principally through particular and discrete locations. Any college teacher will have ample proof of the frightening lack of cultural information, both historical and contemporaty, of even the most searching of our new students. These individuals have been subjected to cultural asphyxiation administered not only by the barrage of network television and MTV, but also, more poignantly, by the self-appointed keepers of the cultural flame, who are unwilling to provide powerful alternative programming and prefer to promote, as a habit and a rule, a sanitized and denatured version of contemporary art, pushing the pat and trim as cutting edge while debunking at every turn the untried and complex, the edgy or the odd or unnerving-that is those works of contemporary culture that give it life. Could I possibly be saying that the crisis ofAmerican culture is that there is inadequate support and distribution of difficult and challenging new art? Does a tire tire without air, an elephant blow its horn in the dark, a baby sigh when the glass door shatters its face? At the community ("free") clinic I worked for in the early 1970s we sold T-shirts that said, "Healthcare is for people not profit." Not that we were ahead of our time. Times are just behind where they could be. Whenever I go into a Barnes & Ignoble Superstore or Waldaltonsbooks (If we don't have it it must be literature.?, I'm reminded that our slogan for healthcare applies to poetry too. Does anybody wonder any more what the effects will be of the consolidation of publishing and book distribution companies into large conglomerates? Let them read cake. As I write this, the current bestseller list contains the perfect symbol for the current state of affairs as the two top slots are occupied, in effect, by the publicity machines designed to promote "cultural product": Rush Limbaugh's See I Told You So and Howard Stern's Private Parts. What sells, in this purest form ofhype-omancy is the apparatus of publicity itself: for here we have self-consuming artifacts par excellence-no external referent need apply. And if we say that the public "wants" these products we are only succumbing to the equation ofconsumption with desire. For these books/machines/shows are the QVN of ideas, inexorably selling themselves in a vicious circle of publicity chasing its own tale: these books mark not merely the tabloidization ofideas-that happened long ago-but the tabloidization BAFFLER路

115


of tabloidization. Meanwhile, in the upscale journals that condescend to the truth bared by Stern and Limbaugh, no book has been more attended to than a memoir by one of the originators of this phenomenon, Willie Morris, formerly editor of Harper's: for what better subject for promotion than promotion? There is a world outside this semblance of culture. In poetry, its institutions go by the name of the small press and the reading series. Along with small press magazines and books, poetry reading series are the most vital site of poetic activity in North America. Readings provide a crucial place for poets not only to read their new work, but also to meet with each other and exchange ideas. Readings provide an intimately local grounding for poetry and are commonly the basis for the many regional scenes and groups and constellations that mark the vitality of the artform. Despite the fundamental importance of readings in the creation of North American poetry over the past forty years, very little attention has been given to this medium either by the press or by critics, except in the case where readings deform themselves to most resemble media events, as in the cross ofM1V and poetry slams, where the alternative explorations of sense and meaning and sound are too often reduced to alt. culture. 10 1, or retro-Beat-chic, opening acts for the bigger budget spectacle of the band to come. While reading series that represent the range and innovation ofcontemporary poetry are more concentrated in New York and the Bay area, many American cities have long-running local reading series. The best source of information about readings in New York City area is The New York City Poetry Calendar, which has been publishing a monthly broadside of poetry events since 1977 (60 E. 4th St #21, New York, NY 10003). The calendar lists about 300 different readings each month, has a printrun of7500 and a readership of well over 10,000. Despite the striking vitality of poetry readings, readings are never reviewed in any of the nation's daily or weekly newspapers, even though these papers routinely review theater and dance and art events whose scale is comparable. I suspect the reason is that cultural editors, like most literary critics and scholars, wrongly assume that the book is the only significant site of a poet's work. Yet contemporary North American poetry is realized as significantly in its performances in live readings as it is in its printed forms. Critical response to contemporary poetry that fails to account for its performance is, for the most part, inadequate. The past thirty years have been a time of enormous growth of small press publishers. According to a Loss Pequeno Glazier's statistics in Small Press: An Annotated Guide, the number of magazines listed in Len Fulton's International Directory of Little Magazines & Small Presses has gone from 250 mostly poetry magazines in 1965 to 700 in 1966 to 2,000 magazines in 140 categories in 1976 to 4,800 magazines in 1990, of which about 40 percent were literary. The importance

116 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


of the small press for poetry is not restricted to any aesthetic or indeed to any segment of poets. According to a recent study by Mary Briggs, independent noncommercial presses are the major source ofexposure for all poets, young and old, prize winning or not. The staple of the independent literary press is the single-author poetry collection. Douglas Messerli, publisher of Sun & Moon Press, a high-end small press comparable to Black Sparrow, New Directions, and Dalkey Archives, provided me with representative publication information for a 100-page poetry collection: Print-runs at Sun & Moon go from 1000 to 2000, depending, of course, on likely sales. Messerli notes that print-runs of less than 1000 drive the unit cost up too high and he encourages other literary presses to print a minimum of 1000 copies if at all possible. Sun & Moon titles are well-produced, perfectbound, and offset with full color covers. The printing bill for this runs from $2600 to $4000 as you go from 1000 to 2000 copies. Messerli estimates the cost of editing a 100-page poetry book at $300: this covers all the work between the press receiving a manuscript and sending it to a designer (including any copyediting and proofreading that may be necessary as well as preparation of front and back matter and cover copy). Typesetting is already a rarity for presses like Sun & Moon, with authors expected to provide computer disks wherever possible. Formatting these disks (converting them into type following specifications of the book designer) can cost anywhere from $300 to $1000, one of those variable labor costs typical of small press operations. The book designer will charge about $500. The cover will cost an additional $100 for photographic reproduction or permission fees or both. Publicity costs must also be accounted for, even if, as at Sun & Moon, no advertising is involved. Messerli estimates publicity costs at $1500, which covers the cost of something like 100 free copies distributed to reviewers, postage and packing, mailings and catalog pages, etc. The total cash outlay here, then, for 2000 copies, is around $6800. (For the sake of this discussion, overhead costs -rent, salaries, office equipment, phone bills, etc-are not included; such costs typically are estimated at about 30 percent more than the cost of production). If all goes well, Sun & Moon will sell out of its print run in two years. Let's say Sun & Moon prints 2000 copies ofthe book and charges $10 retail; let's also say all the books were sold. That makes a gross of $20,000. Subtract from this a 50 percent wholesale discount (that is, most bookstores will pay $5 for the book) and that leaves $10,000. Subtract from this the 24 percent that Sun & Moon's distributor takes (and remember that most small presses are too small to secure a distributor with a professional sales force). That leaves $7600. Now last, but not to be totally forgotten, especially since I am a Sun & Moon author, the poet's royalty; typically no advance would be paid and the author would receive 10 percent of this last figure, or $760. That leaves $6840 return to the publisher on a cash cost of about $7000. BAFFLER路

117


As James Sherry noted years ago in L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, a piece of paper with nothing on it has a definite economic value. Ifyou print a poem on it, this value is lost. Here we have a vivid example of what George Bataille has called general economy, an economy of loss rather than accumulation. Poetry is a negative-or let's just say poetic-economy. But of course I've stacked the decks a bit. Many small presses will eat a number of costs I've listed. Copyediting, proofreading and design costs may be absorbed in the overhead if they are done by the editor-cum-publisher, proofreader, publicity department, and shipper. Formatting and production are commonly done on inhouse computers. But these costs cannot be absorbed away-600 dpi laser printers and late-night "proofreading" can cause some serious malabsorption problems for which your gastroenterologist has no cure. Then again, if a book generates enough of an audience to require reprinting, modest profits are possible, allowing the publication of other, possibly less popular, works. The situation for the independent literary magazines is similar to presses, and indeed many small presses started as little magazines. o. blek, a beautifully produced magazine edited by Peter Gizzi and Connel McGrath, was started on borrowed money in 1987. One thousand copies of the first 148-page issue cost $1000 for typesetting, $2700 for the printing, and $400 for postage. That cost has remained relatively consistent, although a switch to desktop halved the typesetting cost. That first issue, with a cover price of$5.50 (and with the distributor taking 55 percent), sold out in a year and a half After one year, o.blek had about 75 subscribers; after six years, that number is 275 (a figure that does not include libraries, who mostly subscribe through jobbers). o. blek's most ambitious publication (edited by Juliana Spahr and Gizzi) is just out: 1500 copies of a two-volume set, 600 pages in all, collecting poems and statements of poetics from mostly younger poets, many of whom participated in the Writing from the New Coast Festival held at the University at Buffalo last spring. Compare this to Sulfur, edited by Clayton Eshleman, who reports that there were 1,000 copies printed of the first issue in 1981-"maybe 50 subscribers at the time the issue was published, with perhaps 300 to 400 going out to stores. Now, 2000 copies per issue; around 700 subscribers, with 800 to 900 copies going to stores." Of course, many small presses and magazines produce more modest publications than Sun & Moon, Sulfur or o.blek. Indeed, the heart of the small press movement is the supercheap magazine or chapbook, allowing just about anyone to be a publisher or editor. In this world, marketplace values are truly turned upsidedown, since many readers of the poetry small press feel the more modest the production, the greater the integrity of the content. There is no question that many of the best poetry magazines of the postwar period have been produced by the cheapest available methods. In the 1950s, the "mimeo revolution" showed up the stuffY pretensions of the established, letterpress literalY quarterlies, not only with its greater literary imagination, but also with innovative designs and graphics. In 1965,

118 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


23 percent of little presses were mimeo, 31 percent offset, 46 percent letterpress, according to Fulton's Directory. By 1973, offset had jumped to 69 percent, with letterpress at 18 percent, and mimeo only 13 percent. As Loss Glazier notes, the mimeo in "the mimeo revolution" is more a metaphor for inexpensive means of reproduction than a commitment to anyone technology. Indeed, poetry's use of technology often has a wryly aversive quality. For example, as offset began to dominate the printing industry in the early 1970s, letterpresses became very cheap to acquire, so that presses like Lyn Hejinian's Tuumba and Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop's Burning Deck could produce books with little other cash expense than paper costs and mailing, given the editors willingness to spend hundreds of hours to handset every letter and often enough handfeed each page. In the metaphoric sense, then, the mimeo revolution is very much alive in the 1990s, with some of the best poetry magazines today-such as Abacus, Witz, Mirage

#4, The Impercipient, Interruptions, lower limit speech, Letterbox, Situation, lyric&

and Object-consisting oflittle more than a staple or two holding together from 16 to 60 sheets of paper that have been xeroxed in editions of 50 or 100 or 150. Yet the new mimeo revolution for poetry is surely electronic. Because the critical audience of poets, mostly unaffiliated with academic institutions, does not yet have access to the internet, attempts to create on-line poetry magazines remain preliminary. Technical problems abound; computers actually make reading and writing harder than previous technologies. But these are just the difficulties that make for poetic interest. Still, the potential is there and a few editors have started to propose some basic formats for creating virtual uncommunities. In 1993, the first electronic poetry magazines were founded, including Grist, edited by John Fowler (fowler@phantom.com) and Rift, edited by Ken Sherwood and Loss Glazier (epoetry@ubvm). Also online is Luigi-Bob Drake's and friends', Taproot Reviews (au462@cleveland.freenet.edu), an heroic effort to review hundreds of small magazines and chapbooks committed to "experimental language art & poetry." Experiments with poetry and poetics "listserve" discussion groups have also begun, but as yet the intriguing mix of newsletter, group letter, and bulletin board has not yet found its place. It seems certain, however, that the net will be a crucial site for the distribution of works of poetry, especially out-of-print works, as well as for information on obtaining books and magazines, and, I suspect, for long-term local, national and international exchanges of ideas and work in progress. The power of our alternative institutions of poetry lies in their commitment to scales that allow for the flourishing of the artform, not the maximizing of the audience; to production and presentation, not publicity; to exploring the known not manufacturing renown. These institutions continue, against all odds, to find value in the local, the particular, the partisan, the committed, the tiny, the peripheral, the unpopular, the eccentric, the difficult, the complex, the homely; and in the formation and reformation, dissolution and questioning, of imaginary or BAFFLER â&#x20AC;˘

119


virtual or partial or unavowable communities and/or uncommunities. Such alternative institutions benefit not just from the support of their readers and writers, but also from contributions by government, individuals, and foundations. Recently, such large foundations as the Lila Wallace - Readers Digest Fund have committed substantial funds to independent literary presses, but they have done so in ways that are often destructive of the culture of the institutions they propose to support. Rather than providing funds to directly support the production of books and magazines, or, indeed, editors or authors, such institutions insist on primarily funding organizational expansion, for example, by providing money to hire new staff for development, publicity, and management. While any money is welcome, the infrastructural expansion mandated by these foundations-defended in the name of stabilizing designated organizations-makes the small press increasingly dependent on ever larger infusions of money, in the process destroying the financial flexibility that is the alternative press's greatest resource. By pushing the presses they fund to emulate the structutes of large non-profit and for-profit institutions to which they stand in honorable structural opposition, these foundations reveal all too nakedly their commitment to the administration ofculture rather than to the support of poetry. Ironically, the negative economy of poetry is what makes it such a great asset for our culture in that it provides an alternative system of valuation to the bureaucratic professionalism of the academy and to the commercialism of the book industry and art world, not to mention the TV and movie industries. But the value of the alternative institutions of poetry is not just that they do not seek, or make, a profit. In that respect, they are no match for such mainstream magazines as The New Yorker, which, despite a circulation that has recently surged to 750,000, appears to be losing as much as $10 million a year (that's something like $13 per subscriber)-an amount that could finance a good part of the annual cost of the alternative poetry presses and readings and magazines (see Elizabeth Kolbert's "How Tina Brown Moves Magazines," in The New York Times Magazine, Dec. 5, 1993.) The New Yorkers parent company, S. I. Newhouse, is apparently less concerned with profit than with cultural dominance-legitimating the cultural product that forms the basis of its media empire. This exercise in hegemony, circulation, and publicity is more important than profit. Publishing statistics are notoriously unteliable, especially when they concern the amount publishers are willing to lose-less to obtain cultural legitimacy, I would say, than to establish cultural values. According to The New York Times (3/ 2/94), Harold M. Evans, the publisher of Random House's adult trade division, told an audience at the PEN American Center that "the 29 books he published that made it on to The New York Times's 1993 list of Notable Books lost $680,000" and the eight books that "won awards from the American Library Association lost a total of$370,000." Evans went on to say thatthree of these books had advertising budgets of $71,000 to $87,000 each and that these books lost from $60,000 to

120 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


$300,000 each. Innovative works of literature or criticism or scholarship that challenge the dominant cultural values of institutions such as Random House are not the most likely candidates to receive this type of support; yet without such subventions they stand little chance of being reviewed or recommended in The New York Times, whose reviews are closely correlated to its advertisers. The point is not that official "high" culture, just as alternative-press poetry, requires subsidies; but that a system of selection and support favors certain works over others; it is this system of selection and promotion that allows the media conglomorates to control culturql sectors that they have written off as largely unprofitable. Note, however, that the content of the selections is less important for this system of dominance than is the system of selection and promotion itself, since the alternative presses can never afford to lose as much as these corporations. It should be no surprise that it is neither the audience nor quality nor accessibility that creates official literary product, or that much of official "high" culture is a loss leader. Advertising and promotion of targeted "loss leaders" are evidently worth the price in influencing literary and critical taste, specifically because they foster a cultural climate in which genuinely profitable products may thrive. The recent "fiction" issue of The New Yorker Qune 27/July4, 1994) is a perfect example of how that magazine goes about promoting the idea that "Only what sells has value and value is determined by the extent of the sales." The issue included a "good cop" feature on a struggling "serious" fiction writer that, while seeming to question the value system of commercial publishing, actually reinforced its claim to exclusive value. Remarkably, the piece, and indeed the whole issue, systematically avoided any reference to alternative and independent presses so as to better foster the illusion (not to say comic notion) that the New York trade presses are the sole purveyors ofliterature. The story on the "struggling" writer emphasized that he had been praised by the Times (which, inevitably, is where the author of the profile had first heard about his work, since that's where you hear about worthwhile fiction) and had five books with HarperCollins that are neither (Si forbid!) "inaccessible or highbrow." The problem seemed to be that he was shifting from one New York trade press to another (a Disney affiliate) and that his projected advance would be only $10,000 (nonetheless, considerably more than most literary writers in this culture receive). The New Yorkers sell was so hard that the following "bad cop" article got right down to business. It was devoted exclusively to promoting the preeminent cultural value of the top ten books on the Times's best seller list: "They have a better ear [than nonbestselling fiction] for what we say, or try to say, or don't notice we're saying-for the small ways in which the mind works and stumbles;" so eat your Wheaties, kids! "Wonder Bread helps build bodies 12 ways" (& that wholewheat stuff doesn't taste as good either!) I don't think "we" can say it any better than that. BAFFLER路

121


Literature is never indifferent to its institutions. A new literature requires new institutions, and these institutions are as much a part of its aesthetic as the literary works that they weave into the social fabric. The resilience of the alternative institutions of poetry in the postwar years is one of the most powerful instances we have of the creation of value amidst its postmodern evasions. When you touch this press, you touch a person. In this sense, the work of our innovative poetries is fundamentally one of social work.

Tupperware Each container is an emblem Of rubbery perfection, sealing Leftovers from the ravenous elements, Preserving them for tomorrow or the next day, Depending on a body's mood. Say the mood is transferred, Inside equals outside, the when overlaps The where. Say the sun slips Softly behind suburbs, Anthills spill thin shadows, Census-takers round-off numbers, A new vocabulary hums in dusk-colored air. This poem is about believing in something Immortal, changeless, forever. But emblems wane: Tonight the moon will be A pinched arc of moonlight overhead, And as such, unattainable, though we'll remain Goal-oriented on the mountains of inconsequence In the still hours. - Steve Healey

122 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


speed kills: magazine & phonograph record co. ~ issue no.6: latest installment of the motorized pulp manifesto. beasties, neu, slant 6, gravel, evel knievel, grand-spaulding dodge, bonus superchunk 45, & more. 144 pages. $4.00 ppd. In the usa. seD-003: larry cash, Ir./handsome family split 7" two chicago combos loop-the-Ioop around the headstone of rock-n-roll. 100% dally allowance of twisted pop-noise guaranteed in every sliver-coated package. $3.00 ppd. in the usa.

~

Issue no.7: the "art & seience" special. slated lor early 1995. this investigation will Include a pair of deluxe electro-acoustic vinyl artifacts as well as several articles & visual aids. available through all finer textbook suppliers. music disks: new releases by rocket from the crypt, butterglove, banta, & other "low-buck kustoms" are currently in production. ~

dewi dtowp fty" fw cdI.Olog &r ~ p.o. box 14561 chgo. II 60614 e-mail: 75111.645@compuserve.com

BAFFLER â&#x20AC;˘

123


SEMINARY

co-op

BOOKSTORE The Cargest seCection of university press and schoCarCy titCes in print. 312-752-4381 1-800-777 -1456 Fax: 312-752-8507 e-mail: books@semcoop.wwa.com We ship books anywhere. 5757 S. University Ave . /Chicago

Where serious readers come for fun. 312-684-1300 1301 E. 57th Street / Chicago 124 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


from

How Late It Was, How Late James Kelman Alright? Just find this damn bloody button ... The doors shut on him. They opened again. Fucking bastard, muttered the guy. The doors shut. Sammy waited a wee minute then wandered. A door opened. He called: Hullo? Yes? said a man with a polite voice. I'm looking for Sightloss. Is it both eyes? Yeh. It's just along to the end of this corridor and turn to your left; ye cant miss it. Great, ta ... When he got there he found the door handle and went on in. Sit there please. Whereabouts? I'm just about to show yeo Sorry. It sounded like a boy about 18 or 19. He took Sammy by the wrist then guided his hand onto the ledge of a soft chair and telt him to sit down. Sammy sat down and sank away back and feet came off the ground, he grabbed for the chair's arms, dropped the stick and pushed himself forwards, connected his heels to the floor. Ye got yer appointment card?

Sammy gave him it and hear him keying in on a computer. So ye're registering for Dysfunctional Benefit on account ofSightloss: and it's both eyes? Yeh. The boy hit the computer keyboard and went on doing it after every question and answer. Is it congenital? he said. Naw. Was it a spontaneous occurrence or did ye get any advance warning? Naw. Have ye got a history of eye-trouble? Naw. Ye've never had trouble with yer eyes? Nope. Excerpted from How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman. Copyright Š 1994 by James Kelman. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, w. W. Norton & Company, Inc. BAFFLER â&#x20AC;˘

125


None whatsoever? No that I can remember. Mind you, I was aye a wee bit skelly-I was never any good at darts-couldnay hit the board never mind a bed! But I mean I never needed glasses, and it didnay affect other things, playing football or whatever. Aw so ye playa sport .. .football? Well, I used to. But no now? Sammy smiled: Naw. Did you stop because of yer Sighdoss? What? naw-I just stopped. Who did ye play for last? Who did ye play for last? A couple of teams. Who at the end? Ye wouldnay know them it was a club in England. An English team? Aye. What was their name. Ye wouldnay know them. I think they've disbanded. Ye've still got to tell us, unless if ye dont remember. D'ye no remember? It was in the Essex Provincial League. Who? Northfleet Amateurs. How long were you with them? Eh about eh four or five months. How long ago was that? Eh, ten years. Eleven in fact. And did ye ever undergo a full medical with them? Eh aye, suppose I did. Were ye unemployed when ye were with them? Were ye unemployed when ye were with them? Sammy sniffed: On and off. Were ye registering at the Job Centre? On and off, yeh. Were ye in receipt of any gratuities or benefits from the football club while ye were registering? Nope. None at all?

126 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


Naw it was strictly amateur. And was it full-function employment ye registered for? Yeh. Ye're a construction worker to trade? Well no to trade, I'm a labourer-semi skilled. When ye were in prison did ye register for general work? Yeh. Ye were never restricted to light duties caused through physical dysfunction or physical disability? Naw. Nor any medical incapacity? Nope. What was yer last job? Community Work Provision. And before that? Oh christ now ye're talking ... Eh .. .it was down in London; 11 year ago. And did ye leave because the job finished? Well the job finished, I was laid off. It was not because of physical dysfunctioning or physical disability? Naw. When did ye last claim sickness benefit? No for ages. When? Oh christ it must have been eh 11 or 12 years ago. And ye arent working at present? Nope. But ye are registered? Yeh. Full function? Yeh well I mean aye but no now, I'll be re-registered. When do ye say ye lost yer sight? Last week, Monday or T uesday-Tuesday I think. Are ye saying something caused the dysfunction. Or else did it just happen? Well something must have caused it. What do ye think? Eh ... Will I put 'don't know'? Eh, aye. Ye were in police custody at the time? That's right. And have ye seen a doctor yet? Nope. BAFFLER路

127


Has the dysfunction been diagnosed by any medical authority? No yet. Have ye raised a civil claim for compensation in respect of the dysfunction? Naw. Never at any time? Never at any time? Naw. Now the boy battered away on the keyboard without talking; then eventually he said: Heh the Essex Provincial's quite a good league int it? fair standard? No bad. It was when I was there anyway, couple of ex-seniors and that. I didnay think ye would have heard of it. Aye. Ye never play up here? When I was boy. Who for? Och a couple of teams. Sammy sniffed D'ye play yerself like? Yeh. The department's got a side. But I play with another team as well. Good. The Churches League. Aw christ aye, the auld Churches League! It used to be as hard as nails. Still is! Sammy chuckled. Ye know ye've been in a game. Ah well that's the right way son. As long as ye enjoy it, know what I mean, as long as ye enjoy it. Christ I used to live for the game myself. If I had took my chances ... The scouts were up and aw that. I blew it. What happened? I just blew it. I was silly. What about yerself? Well I've had a couple of trials. Have ye? It's no came to anything yet. There's a Junior club after me the now but I think I'm gony hang on a couple of months. Ah well good, aye, ye must be showing promise. Dont give up whatever ye do. Aw naw, it's cool, I'll go to the end of the season. Just make sure ye enjoy it, that's the main thing. I miss playing the game myself. There's guys your age still playing. Aw I know. Just a pity about yer eyes. Ach my own stupidity son a wee altercation with the sodjers; they gave me a doing. Sammy shrugged. One of these things; I was silly and so were they. They gave ye a doing? Aye.

128 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


And ye're saying ye were silly? The boy started hitting the keyboard again. What're ye writing that down? said Sammy. Yeh. Well I'd prefer ye no to. I've got to but Mister Samuels. How? Cause it's material. We're required to do it. Sammy sniffed. Ye no got a delete button? Yeh but no for this operation. If the custom doesnt want something in they're supposed to not say it. Once it's in it cannay come out. I dont have the authority; I'm just a Preliminary Officer. I'm no allowed to adjudicate on something where it's material. Ye didnay write down the football stuff. Well that isnay material. Now is there anything else ye want to say? Eh? Sammy scratched his chin; he found the stick and used it to get himself up off the chair. He heard the boy getting up and coming round towards him: I'll guide ye through to the IMO's office, he said. Want to take my arm? What? He lifted Sammy's hand and placed it on his wrist. Sammy was tense as fuck but managed to stOP himself applying pressure. The boy's wrist was thin; Sammy could have snapped it with one quick chop. Now the boy moved forwards and Sammy went with him. It felt weird. He hadnay walked like this with anybody afore. The funny thing was how he seemed in control of himself but at the same time he wasnay cause he was getting led, and yet it was his own hand that held the grip and no other way about. It took him a wee minute to remember he was angry. His stick knocked against the door. The boy opened it and guided him through it, and then to a chair. Just sit down here, he said, it'll no be long. Ye okay now? Sammy had took away his hand; now he lowered himself onto the chair, preparing for the slope. Ye okay now Mister Samuels? Sammy sniffed. There was fuck all to say. He wasnay even angry any longer. It BAFFLER路

129


was just best the boy went away now, that he got to fuck out the road. He laid the stick on the floor then sat back, folding his arms. He heard the boy leave. It was his own fucking stupit fault anyway man know what I mean ye blab, ye just blab. Hell with it. He could have done with a smoke mind you. Ye would think they would lay on a smokers' room. Probably they had one for the staff. Ach well fuck it man ye do without. he started humming a song, then stopped. There was fuck all sounds, nothing. the last room had been quiet but here he couldnay hear a thing. Maybe there was naybody here, maybe he was alone. And there had to be stuff lying about. It was an office, know what I'm saying, there had to be. All kinds of bits and pieces. He felt for his stick then reached with it to check the space round where he was sitting: it knocked against things; furniture. Stupit even thinking about it. Sure as fuck, as soon as he got up and started groping about the fucking door would bust open. With his luck man know what I'm talking about a fucking certainty. Best relaxing, just let it go. What would there by anyway! pencils and fucking pens or something. Plus the video would be running fuck sake ye kidding. Sammy yawned. Aw jees man he was tired; everything was an effort. He yawned again; the trouble was this chair, it was so fucking corny; it started off it wasnay but then ye got used to it; ye began by sitting up but gradually ye were just about flat out and lying cause of the slope. Ye felt like kicking off the shoes. Another yawn. Jesus christ. It was just so warm, it felt like they had the central heating turned up full blast. He actually had good reason to be tired, so a couple of minutes' shut-eye, a wee doze, it wouldnay go amiss. There was fuck all could happened to him; it's no as ifhe was on the edge of a cliff and might roll ower, it was just an office, it was just people. Which was the fucking problem so ye had to be alert, alert. Alert as fuck man ye had to be. He sat up, sat forwards, his elbows on his thighs and he breathed out then in, and again, and again. Fresh fucking oxygen. Cause it was all just to make ye fall asleep. That was what it was about; it was a fucking move man the DSS, all so's yer fucking brains stopped working, so ye couldnay think, in case ye were sorting out some sort of plan. So ye had to stay alert at all costs. All yer senses ye need them all; ready for anything man know what I'm saying. Sammy once read this book about bats; they have this incredible sense of hearing, it's sonic or somefuckingthing like they've developed their own radar, compensating the blindness. Then too christ almighty that army programme he saw on the telly about this blind guy could stand on one side of a wall and know what was happening on the other. he could actually pick up what was going on in a different room, whereabouts people were standing and all that-like one of these cunts that can bend forks. Except that was amateur night at the Palladium compared to what this blind guy was doing, it was like he had developed some sort ofdifferent sense-organ

130 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


all the gether. Right enough it was congenital. So it maybe wasnay possible for the likes of Sammy. Probablyye had to be a baby; that first few hours ye were led kicking and screaming yer way into the world. Cause all weans are blind at birth. Sammy could mind seeing wee Peter in the hospital cot and worrying ifeverything was gony work out okay cause ye wouldnay know till later on. Ye saw their eyes but how did ye know they were gony fucking work I mean ye see a shop full of shoes and nayn of them are fucking walking. These things, all these different things. Are you Mister Samuels? Yeh. Sammy jerked his head; he hadnay heard her approach. Then could ye kindly step forward please. She must have been close. A whiff of perfume or something, fresh soap maybe; this sensation of total and absolute fucking cleanliness man ye could imagine her, blouse parted at the neck, the top rwo buttons open, hints of sweet mystery, then the smart skirt and jacket, the jewellery, and then that what's-the-word fucking eh--dass or something who knows, style, he was up from the chair: follow that swish; every whim, baby, on ye go. Whereabouts? he said. Ye'll find a seat to your left, just in between the desks. Sammy tapped the stick as he went. He bumped into something. More like a table than a desk, he worked his way roundabout it. Another table, or else a desk. The way his stick tapped ye could nay tell. He stopped a wee minute. Just forward now to your left, she said, between the desks. Christ almighty how far to the left was she talking about? He poked the stick about till he found the space, and moved forwards, it was a tight squeeze and his left knee banged into something. The chair's in front of ye now, just sit down. It was an ordinary chair thank fuck cause he forgot to check it out. He sat straight to give his spine a rest, kept his hand on the stick. You're asserting sighdoss in both eyes eh Mister Samuels? That's right. Sammy turned his head; her voice seemed to be coming from somewhere along to the side. What does it comprise? Eh, just I cannay see. He tried to shift the chair but it was stuck to the floor. What precisely d'ye mean, everything? Yeh. Ye cant see anything at all? No. Sammy shifted again; her voice was definitely coming from somewhere else now and ye got the feeling she was moving about. And ye say this happened without prior warning? Yeh. No signs of progressive deterioration? Naw I mean it was justlike I says to the boy there, I woke up and that was that. There was a silence for a wee bit and now when she spoke her voice was coming BAFFLER â&#x20AC;˘

131


from nearer the direction he was facing: And this was during the time ye were custody of the police? That's right. You're asserting ye were subject to a physical beating by members of the police department? What? What d'ye say? They gave ye a doing? They gave me a doing? That's what's entered here. Well I dont like the way it sounds. I'm only reading out whatye told the Preliminary Officer; he entered the phrase in quotation marks to indicate these were yer own very words. Was he mistaken in this do you feel? Look I cannay remember what I said exactly; as far as know I just telt him I lost my sight last Monday or Tuesday, I woke up and it was away. Are ye denying these were the words used? I dont know, I cannay remember: I didnay use physical beating but I know that. Sammy gripped the stick. She carried on talking: What's entered here is the phrase 'they gave me a doing', and it's entered expressly as a quotation. But it's a colloquialism and not everyone who deals with yer claim will understand what it means. I felt that was fair to use physical beating by way of an exposition but if you would prefer something else .. .is there anything else ye can think of? It was a fight. Pardon? Look, what does it say? They gave ye a doing. Can I change it? No, I'm sorry, but ye can add to it for purposes of clarification; if ye wish to clarify what you mean then ye can do. Sammy rubbed at his chin, moving the flesh at the jawbone. He should have shaved, it was a mistake no to. He sniffed then said: They were using physical restraints. She tapped this into the computer and spoke at the same time: Yer own words always remain entered anyway Mister Samuels. Do ye wish to add anything further. Naw just leave it. Fine. Now there are two bands of dysfunction; those with a cause that is available to verification, and those that remain under the heading pseudo-spontaneous. The former band may entitle the customer to Dysfunctional Benefit but

132 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


those in the latter may not. But both bands entitle the customer to a reassessment of his or her physical criteria in respect of full-function job registration, given the dysfunction is established. He reached into his pocket for the tobacco, but stopped. Now Mister Samuels I see ye are not seeking compensation. That's right. Mmm. When she spoke now she carried on tapping the keyboard: The fact that ye're not seeking compensation in respect of alleged physical restraints may be registered by some as an inconsistency, I just wonder if ye're aware of that. Look I'm saying I go the dysfunction cause of the physical restraints, it wasnay spontaneous I mean I didnay just lose it cause of nothing, it was something, whatever it was I dont know but it was something. So I've got to register that. I mean that's all I'm doing, registering it here like I'm supposed to; I'm no being cheeky, if I'm entitled to benefit then I'm entitled to benefit. If I'm no I'm no. Know what I mean, that's all I'm saying. Yes well the police department is empowered to restrain the customer Mister Samuels and certainly if the customer is then in receipt of a dysfunction, and this dysfunction is shown to be an effect of the restraints applied then the customer is entitled to submit an application to this department in respect of Dysfunctional Benefit and if it is approved then the benefit is awarded. Aye well that's all I'm saying miss it was restraints, they were doing restraints and I wound up blind I mean I agree with that. Sammy reached for his tobacco but stopped. I would point out the inconsistency however Mister Samuels: on the one hand you say that is the case; on the other hand I can imagine some saying, well if it' s true why is he not taking any action? Why is he not taking any action? Aye but I am taking action, I'm coming here to get a benefit. They would tend to assume that one who receives a physical dysfunction at the hands of another, on the balance of probability, would take action against this other for due recompence. Sammy smiled and shook his head. Look miss what I'm saying is the polis didnay intend to make me lose my sight I mean if they went at me with a blade and then dug out my eyes then I'd be straight in for compensation, know what I mean, but they didnay, they gave me physical restraints, and I wound up with a dysfunction. Ifit was intentional, if they had done it intentional, well fair enoughcompensation, I would be in for it immediately; no danger. Okay? I'm no being cheeky, I appreciate what ye're telling me. She went at it on the computer for a while. I just want to leave it the way it is, muttered Sammy and he glanced at his wrist BAFFLER'

133


but had fuck all watch on and he couldnay have seen it even ifhe had. Fucking smoke man they dont even let ye have a fucking smoke. Ye must understand also Mister Samuels that if as you suggest the alleged dysfunction is an effect of physical restraints and is established as such then the secondary factor arises in respect of those restraints, and this secondary factor may become primary, why were those restraints being exercised ... Ye want to know like? Ye want to know about the restraints? No I dont want to know Mister Samuels but ye must understand that it would tend to cast doubt on the question of causation; you could find yerself in the invidious situation where it is argued, on the balance of probability, that it was you yerself that caused the alleged dysfunction, that you were the primary cause. Sammy knew that was coming. He fucking knew it. Obvious as fuck. He bit on the skin at the corner of his left thumb. Would ye like to add something? It was aye the same. He folded his arms. Mister Samuels? Aye? Do ye have anything to add? Sammy sat forwards on the chair and gripped his knees: I'm saying there was physical restraints, right? and the upshot was I went blind, I got sightloss: that's what I'm saying. What is there something wrong in that? It's not a question of wrongness we're only filling out an application. You're saying I should go after compensation? I beg yer pardon Mister Samuels I'm not saying anything of the sort. Well whatthen? I mean the way you're talking I'd be as well no even bothering. I mean basically that's what ye' re saying, dont bother, that's what ye' re telling christ almighty, I'm no eh I mean-come on; here I am I mean I'm blind, I know it wasnay the polis's fault they're only doing their bloody job, how did they know what would happened they didnay, they didnay know, I'm no blaming them, no that way, it wasnay bloody intentional I mean I admit that christ ... Sammy shook his head, then he was aware of the keyboard. Are ye putting that down? I beg yer pardon? Christ almighty. Sorry... Look miss I didnay know ye were gony write all that down, I mean ... Is there something you'd like withdrawn? Are you asking that I withdraw something? I dont even know what I said. Well if ye wish to add something ...

134 â&#x20AC;˘ BAFFLER


Sammy sniffed. He rubbed his eyes. They were itchy. He wasnay gony lose his temper. He shouldnay lose his temper anyway cause it was his own fault, as per fucking usual. Ifhe was gony get angry then he should kick fuck out himself cause he was the fucking idiot, fucking him, naybodyelse. He reached into his pocket and brought out the tobacco. He turned the packet over, twiddled it between his fingers. He took a short breath, then a longer yin. It was a case of screwing the nut. It was his belly just, the ribcage. A case of relaxing, relaxing. Ye let it go, ye just let it go. He listened to the keyboard. It was fucking pointless. So ye leave it. Sammy smiled, he shook his head. Maybe I didnt love you just as much as I should have maybe I didnt see you just as often as I could have Fuck them. Fuck them. He sighed and leant back on the chair; he should have fucking went to sleep, he shouldnay have woke up either neither he should. Fuck them. She was talking, fuck her. Fuck ye hen. Sammy lifted the stick then got himself on to his feet. Bla bla bla. The Medical Benefits Office of the Police Department has its own procedures Mister Samuels. Is that a fact? Sammy stood for a moment then he said: Can I take a form away with me and fill it in myself? Ye can yes; but ye do realise there is a stipulated period of time in claims like these: you assert the dysfunction took place on Tuesday last? Tuesday aye. Then ye've eight more days excluding Sundays. I must also advise ye that even should you fill in a new form the present one remains on file as part of the scheduled evidence. . Can ye no just scrub it. No. I can however withdraw yer application. Well ye might as well I mean I'm as well just bloody chucking it. Eh? Mister Samuels if ye feel that you have sightloss then it is in yer own interest to register it in respect of the physical criteria required for full-function job registration. Aye. What happens if you are sent on Community Work Provision under the current terms of contract? Ifye cant see then ye'll prove incapable offulfilling these BAFFLER â&#x20AC;˘

135


terms. I strongly advise ye to register just now. Aye but ... It's only a matter of registering the dysfunction, in your case sightloss; ifit is established then the physical criteria in respect of job registration will alter accordingly. I know what ye're saying. This means you become available for certain types ofwork and only those types of work. Some jobs demand the capacity of sightloss dysfunction; others dont. Right. So do ye consider this a thing ye might want to do? Yeh. The argument now becomes purely medical. Their authorities wHl request reports. Fine. You'll still be asked to attend the PDMBO in person, I should advise ye of that, but it's a formality in respect of the onset question. The Police department's medical authorities must determine a date on which ye received yer dysfunction. Obviously ifye assert ye became in receipt ofthis while in custody oftheir own officers then they become obliged to seek a fuller clarification. It's always a formality in claims of this nature. Aye. Sammy sniffed. Ye see miss I'm no actually sure when I got the sightloss, it might have been earlier, it might have been last Saturday, in fact I think it was last Saturday. I thought you said it was Tuesday? Yeh but it might have been Saturday. Are ye sure? Well I'm no positive. But it might have been? The more I think about it, aye, cause that day's went totally out of my memory I mean it's a blank, so I think maybe that'll be it, that'll be how it happened. And that was before ye got taken into police custody? Aye, yeh. And do ye have a certificate from an authorised medical practitioner? She was tapping into the computer while she spoke. No yet, I'm making an appointment the morrow morning. I hope to see the doctor on Monday. Well ye should provide the department with a copy of the medical report as soon as possible. That's what I was gony do. Fine. Sammy sniffed. So is that my claim for Dysfunctional Benefit scrubbed now? Well I'm afraid not, it is withdrawn though. How d'ye mean like it stays on the computer?

136 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


Yes, but it's filed as a withdrawn claim. See ifI change my mind ... What about Mister Samuels? Well I dont know yet, but ifI do I mean ifI do change my mind ... What happens then? That depends, on what ye were changing yer mind about. These situations are particular. Right. Do ye have anything in mind? N aw no really. Again I advise you on the stipulated periods Mister Samuels, if ye assert the dysfunction occurred on the Saturday rather than the Tuesday then yer application period is reduced to five days. Right, thanks. Could ye sign here please? She put a pen into his hand and guided it to what felt like a wee machine; she held his index finger to a spot inside it. Just here, she said. The smell of her perfume. Sammy said: This could be anything I'm signing! And he smiled. I'm just kidding. No ye' re quite right Mister Samuels, I should have mentioned, this is a statutory disclaimer to state that ye've come here and explained the situation to the best of yer ability in the full awareness that any knowingly false statements can result in the withdrawal of any or all allowances from any or all sections of this department of state; and that any action taken by this department of state will neither preclude nor negate a further action that may be contemplated by any other department of state. Sammy signed; then there was a ripping noise and she put a piece of paper into his hand. Yer receipt, she said, it acknowledges yer claim for re-registration. He put it in his pocket then got his stick. For some fucking reason he gave her a cheerio before leaving. When he reached the door he thought he heard her heels clipping away. Maybe going for her lunch. He could imagine her walking across the floor. Sammy knew this kind of woman. Totally beautiful in a weird way; didnay matter what like she was, her build, nothing. Dead sexual as well. Sometimes they wear these smart suits, their blouses are low-cut and they're beautiful and ye're at a total disadvantage; even her voice caws the feet from under yeo Ye meet them everywhere too in these official capacities, that's the best of it-worst I should say. Who's that woman actress with the husky voice? she gives ye a look and ye cannay come back from it; everywhere she goes she reduces men to silence. Sometimes they have her playing the main part in detective movies. Even without the gun but, a square go man, ye'd still be in trouble. Course sometimes it's a different type of woman all the gether. Okay; so that was him fuckt. BAFFLER â&#x20AC;˘

137


The Birthday Party Trick Dogs and Warthogs are rolling on the lawn of the child's birthday party the Trick Dog is tame the Warthog is Wild only you wouldn't know it They mock-fight, bite and yelp for help the Trick Dog runs under a folding chair The Warthog charges at a seven year old boy who wide-eyed with terror drops the cake and ice-cream (the Warthog pauses; licks it up) Mrs. Kennedy calls the fire department-nine-one-one the Warthog has them all trapped inside The house and has completely cut-off any avenues for escape The Trick Dog plays along-barking The Warthog charges at the French doors on the patio they buckle, but don't break All the children at the party are screaming with terror The owner of the Trick Dog is drunk The firemen come and, with a hose, kill the Warthog the children venture back out into the yard newly washed as if after a rainstorm the crepe paper decorations dissolving into watercolors the dead Warthog blasted against the chain-link fence The Trick Dog is loudly reprimanded by its drunk owner for being a stupid dog, etc. The children are picked up at 6:00 (most want their parents to see the Warthog) The hosts receive suspicious glances Is a Warthog suitable entertainment for 2nd graders? Isn't that the Trick Dog owned by that drunk guy? - Joe Fodor

138 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


A Thousand Points of Trite The New Noonan-More Annoying Than Ever! Maura Mahoney So. You've dreamed up "a kinder, gentler nation," "a thousand points oflight," and "a shining City on a Hill"; written a wty memoir ofyour days as a Reagan/Bush speechwriter, with just enough skewering of the easy targets (Nancy, Don Regan) and ironic detachment to convince critics and other leftwing members of the "Western literaty herd" (as your buddy Pat Buchanan likes to call them) that you're "refreshing"; you've "fought the good fight" (to use one of your favorite phrases), and managed to cleverly jump the Bush/Quayle ship just before it... well, you know. Now what do you do? Apparently, you choose a lifestyle in New York that is the antithesis of nearly everything you profess; think deep thoughts and go to parties-lots of parties. There you play the role of the Writer and discuss your crushing sense ofbaby-boomer angst (while carefully measuring the fame and fortune of evetyone who comes through the door). More important, this being the land of opportunity, where, as everyone knows, success merely requires hard work and a bit of pluck, you land another book contract, which enables you to "try to locate something that is true and real." What can you say? God Bless America. Peggy Noonan has had a lot going for her. Widely recognized for her speechwriting contributions to presidents Reagan and Bush, she penned a behindthe-scenes memoir of her White House days that became a runaway best-sellerand she managed, for the most part, to hit just the right notes and have something for everyone. Many critics on the left, charmed by her phrasemaking, seemed to simply disassociate her from her views; others, in a triumph of tolerance over judgment, were willing to admire her contrarian tenaciousness. Meanwhile, those on the right recognized her sophisticated, baby-boomer poster-girl potential: here at last was an antidote to images of nerdy Young Republicans with bad haircuts, glassy-eyed bible-belters, and greedy big-businessmen. Peggy Noonan was conservatism with a pretty face, the golden-girl-next-door of the Republican Party. She went from backstage wordsmith to celebrity journalist, writing for Mirabella, Time, Vanity Fair, and even those dire bastions of the liberal East Coast media establishment, the New York Times and the Washington Post. And she was good, very good, at Playing the Game. Her marketing strategy was to appeal to both her core constituents and the high priests of cultureburg - to be the cosmopolitan conservative; or, as New York magazine cheekily hailed her in a gushing puff piece, "The Glamorous Dork." ("Dork" becomes remarkably playful when it headlines a Grace Kellyesque photo of the subject, who is registering all the BAFFLER路

139


sultrier aspects ofintellectualism.) Noonan was always careful to convey that while she might have worked in the White House, survived the internecine battles of Washington politics, frolicked with the charismatic and the powerful, and chatted with presidents, she was still just Our Peg of Massapequa and Farleigh Dickinson, a red-white-and-blue-blooded American gal who couldn't quite believe where she was - or the size of the egos around her. As befitting a speechwriter for the first Hollywood president, she told her story in the classic Frank Capra vein: casting herself as the idealistic heroine, filled with patriotic zeal to work for her country, who but who manages comes to Washington only to get burned by bureaucrats nonetheless to score a few points for democracy, truth, and the American way. And it was all done with a dash of sophistication and verve that Marilyn Quayle can only dream about. Noonan continues the Game - much less successfully - in her new book, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit ofHappiness. She begins in a beauty parlor, "the kind of salon where the women look beautiful and perfect even before they get their haircut. They glide in ... good suit, short skirt, StairMastered legs." Our Peg is, of course, unaccustomed to all this opulence: "I am new here, do not know these people," "We are high above the avenues of Manhattan, in midtown, in the heart of the gold souk, and I am sockless in my sneakers feeling strange." She launches into a reverie in which she free-associates with abandon, toying with her vision of "the old and the new America," cultural malaise, boomer mid-life crises, motherhood, and so-called family values, all the while having her hair shampooed by the obsequious staff. While so drifting, she runs the gamut of thought from platitude to cliche, "we'll never go back to the old way again, ever"; pronounces commonplace insights with an air of great profundity, "my generation, we believe in work'" indulges in some dreadful alliterative descriptions, "the spray sound somehow surprises" (the reader retches remarkably rapidly); strikes a tradition-lovin' Luddite pose (she announces that she askes for things to be mailed rather than faxed, which has the effect, Our Peg says, of engendering an "air of discovery" in the sender); and most of all, longs for the good 01' days, the "hungryyears," ofher parents' generation (don't expect an acknowedgment that the values she celebrates didn't include luxuriating in ultra-chic salons). And she actually seems to expect us to believe in her big metaphorical denoument, in which one of the perfect women in the salon freaks out and runs into the street, with aluminum foils still adorning her hair. This convenient nervous breakdown allows Noonan to opine that the woman is "an emblem for modern life. I mean postmodern life. In the new America." (Hmmm. I'm not really sure what that's all supposed to mean, though I guess it has something to do with Bill Clinton). Throughout her opening epiphany, Noonan consistently mistakes words for thoughts and musings for arguments. And she's only just begun. Here she is at a Washington party, after her lunch partner, new to the scene, confesses his intimidation. Our Peg admits a teensy-weensy bit of awe, too (although she's careful to squeal, "and I've been here before!"). She points out the

140 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


attendant luminaries (suddenly becoming the unwowed insider): "Ah. Well, that is Charles Kraurhammer the incisive columnist, and that's Hugh Sidey, we read him as kids in Time. Great writer, and a great man. There are the Schulzes ... He's proud of his new book, and should be if for no other reason than the size ... Katherine Graham of the Post, great lady of journalism, Walter Pincus of that paper. Maureen Dowd of the Times, who in the eighties changed political reporting in America, broadened the parameters, allowed sensibility in. Alan Greenspan, who runs the Fed, as you know... Andrea Mitchell of NBC, who made herself into a correspondent with real will and grit.. .. " Noonan's absurdly transparent attempt to be blase is the perfect ctystallization of her theme: 1 am just like you, dear reader - only cooler, and much smarter. Let me explain it all for you. ''I've been here before!" 1t' s all fairly desperate (how long can a former speechwriter cash in?) and would be laughable if it weren't so insidious. For, casting about for something to do, Noonan has decided to become a pundit - and she's actually being taken seriously. So of course, as one of the few conservatives who cares enough to schmooze with the "cultural elite" (keep an eye on the "pet conservative" market niche!) Noonan goes to and describes the Renaissance Weekend, that yearly, mostly liberal gathering of the self-consciously smug "correct thinkers." However-Playing the Game as always-she's aware enough of the bad press and mockery the event has evoked not to ever specifically refer to it by name. There she delivers a speech on "Sailing Uncharted Seas," which resembles nothing so much as a high-school valedictory address: "I go to the aquarium ... and stare at the fish ...And it seems to me that they are like metaphors for man, for our virtues and failings ... The squid who rustles things up and then shoots ink to cover his escape; the kindly, intelligent porpoise; the stingray, elegant and sleek... " Noonan is most irritating, if not downright bizarre, when it comes to women's issues. In a lament for our country's children, she hearkens to the days when mothers never left the home. A friend is offered a White House job, and Noonan, of all people, tries to talk her out of taking it: "When will you get the house all settled in after the move?" "If you don't need money and you don't have a compulsion ... you can stay home and be a good mother who is actually there, you can have time for Dan when he comes home ... you can be a part of the kids' schools, and you can give the best, most fun, most relaxing dinner parties in town." Gee. Another friend, a network correspondent, is cited as the exemplification of the overextended career woman: "She hates to leave her children in the morning, hates it when they twine themselves around her legs and say 'Don't leave,' hates it when she gets home late or travels." Apparently, among her vast circle of friends and connections, Noonan has yet to find a happy working mother. And why does the evidently universal stress-ridden-career vs. unlimited-domestic-delight problem make an exception for Our Peg? She touches on this very dangerous subject only briefly, stating that she works to support herself and her son and because (and this should come as no surprise) she must: "I want to be immersed in life and name what I see." So there. BAFFLER路

141


The unctuous perkiness and good-ol' -gal-cum-wordly-intellectual pose cannot hide the essential fraudulence of Noonan's message. If she ever discussed how she has bridged the schism between her beliefs and her experience as a single mother, she might indeed have written an original, insightful book on life in the "new Amerca." What she has created instead is an exercise in hypocrisy, a marketing tool, a 255-page job application. And, unfortunately, it cannot be dismissed. There may well be room for Noonan in the Gingrichian era, for Newt and Co's contract with America could be just the ticket to pluck Our Peg out of that expensive hair salon and back to honest work, churning out "the vision thing" in no time. Moreover, despite lukewarm to hostile reviews for Lifo, Liberty and the Pursuit ofHappiness, Noonan seems to have recovered. The book faded away and Noonan emerged from its shadow-with celebrity intact, and then some. Her quotes at New York dinners get picked up by the newservices, she's been hired to write a documentary series on values for public television (now that's puttin' that federal funding to some good use!), and, in perhaps the most noticeable illustration of the chattering set's inability to distinguish status from importance, Newsweek put her on their cover (along with Hillary Rodham Clinton and William Bennett) for a story about the renewal of interest in virtue. Evidently just writing about virtue is now tantamount to symbolizing it. Perhaps Noonan's standing shouldn't come as a surprise in an age when Charles Murray is seen by many as a bona-fide intellectual, but it is annoying nonetheless. Her half-baked ideas, dripping with gooey metaphor and reinforced by her carefully packaged image, are accepted, not for their intrinsic worth, but because she is well known; she is a celebrity writer lauded not for her words, but for being recognizable. She "could be a kind of Katherine Hepburn of public television," says the head of PBS. What on earth does he mean? Who knows? Who cares? It sounds good, and in the Noonan world, that's enough. It can't be long until the Annie Leibowitz portrait.

142 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


THE NOW SOUND offers you, the consumer, the best in mass produced art ... both aural and visual. Still available ... 1II.~~!:ii" "A Day in the Park " ~...~

LP/CD featuring Versus, Grifters. Refrigerator. Spatula, Archers of Loaf, Butlerglory. Portastatic, Unwound, and eight more of

tOOay's brightest stars.

COMING SOON: WI GTIP SLOAT, STRAPPING FIELDHANDS .

CD ... $lI.OO LP... $7.50 7" ... $3.50 THE NOW SOUND· BOX 91317· DURHAM, NC· 27708· USA

LOZ PLENUM

a mannerist exercise in manic self-deprecation

BAFFLER·

143


SUBSCRIBING ENOUGH. r-----------.,

I I I I I I o I ___________ L YES! I WANT TO SUBSCRIBE TO YOUR MAGAZINE, TOO. Send me 24 issues 01 The Nation for $22, a saving 01 $32 off the newsstand price. I understand that I may cancel at any time and receive a full refund for all unmailed copies. NAME

(Please print)

ADDRESS

CITY

STATE

ZIP

0 My payment is enclosed. Please bill me later.

All foreign subscriptions, please add $9 payable in advance in U.S. dollars only. Air Mail rates available upon request.

PLEASE MAIL TO:P_O_BOX10791.DESMOINES.IA 50340-0791

T""

L1.

~

I I I I I I I

~

You should be subscribing to our magazine, too. Because week in and week out The Nation brings you the likes of Katha Pollitt, Edward Sorel and Christopher Hitchens in every issue. They're not only some of the best writers and illustrators around-they do their best work for us.

TheSince Nation. 1865. 144 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


The Advertised Life Tom Vanderbilt He would forget his fine disgusts, cease to rage against the tyranny of moneycease to be aware of it, even-cease to squirm at the ads for Bovex and Breakfast Crisps. He would sell his soul so utterly that he would forget it had ever been his. -George Orwell, Keep the Aspidistra Flying

Lessons in Life Last spring, I wandered through "Lessons in Life," a photography exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. As I gazed at the photographs, an unstated unifying theme of the show began to emerge: each work was either a comment on consumer culture or looked a part of it. I was not surprised to see shopworn deconstructionist statements by Barbara Krueger and Richard Misrach, nor was I surprised by the "lesson" that accompanied these works: "Beware of the Media." But it rang dated and rather naive-after all, what was the "media," some snarling and brutish dog tucked safely behind a fence? What set me thinking about the intricacies of life in an image-based consumer society far more sharply than did the connect-the-dots symbolism of the postmodernists' belabored collages, were Joel Sternfeld's photographs, rather plainly depicted portraits of what the curator called the "respectable middle class." In one, an attorney reclined in his office; in another, a pink-clad woman clutched shopping bags on a Santa Monica street. Their faces were earnest and full of vigor, and if you looked beneath each portrait's hyper-real veneer you could discern something quirky about each subject: the attorney was barefoot; the pink-clad woman carried a pet rabbit housed in a pink container. Like the man in the Hathaway shirt ads, whose perfectly ordinary visage betrays the startling fact that he is wearing an eye patch, they were strikingly distinct, yet something about them could appeal to everyone. It occurred to me that these subjects could have been culled from the portfolio of an idealized ad campaign. I wondered how the unique energy that these achievers possessed could be channeled into a suitable product line, and I groped loosely for a tag line, a hook. Was it a "Just Do It" spirit that crackled in these characters? As soon as the thought had crossed my mind I shrank back in disgust: why did I choose those words, that idea? I had, in fact, only hours before, visited Chicago's Nike Town, a giant "sports-retail theater" filled with images of people engaged in Nike's "total body conditioning" lifestyle, a shrine to the possibility ofNike-accessorized athletic greatness and to the poetry of William Blake. It is a palace of emulation. Now I thought maddeningly of the entire Nike pantheon, of Dennis Hopper and every photo in every magazine and on every bus-stop. Faced with Sternfeld's images, BAFFLER路

145


I looked in vain for a message, a brand, a campaign. Surely there was a product for sale here. But they were deafening in their commercial silence. Suddenly the connection between Nike Town and the pictures in the exhibit became clear: they were both aspects of the advertised life, an emerging mode of being in which advertising not only occupies every last negotiable public terrain, but in which it penetrates the cognitive process, invading consciousness to such a point that one expects and looks for advertising, learns to lead life as an ad, to think like an advertiser, and even to anticipate and insert oneself in successful strategies of marketing. The advertised life is not merely what you see on television, it is what the television sees. It is now everything that is around you. That beautiful person standing next to you in that upmarket bar who just ordered a Hennesy martini might be a live product spokesmodel, part of that brand's effort to reach elusive style makers. That mildly humorous dog race you read about was an imitation of a beer ad in which two television programs-drag racing and a dog show-are made into one with the help of a can of beer, an event which proves that "the TV mnemonic," as Miller Lite's brand director puts it, "has really permeated the fabric of the culture." One day, you may dial your telephone and hear an ad instead of a ring. Your friends are going on-line to "interact" with the fictional employees of the M CI commercial's "Gramercy Press." These are just a few signals of a realignment of society in which advertising has become an ingrained function of daily existence, an "Absolut Environment," as the ad says. A visit to another city today is a visit simply to another set ofttanchises in the stable ofa few national corporations. A meal once eaten in a small local diner is now eaten, from NewYorktoSantiago,inwhatacorporation,initsneatlypackagedestimation, considers to be "The French Bakery Cafe"; or, in one of their "multi-themed food and entertainment outlets," whose only link to its environs is to provide paltry service industry wages. The consumer, feeling that life has become easier in the land of superstores and familiar logos, responds eagerly to the promise that nothing need happen in life that is not the finely contrived end product of an agency meeting. It is in Madison Avenue's firmament of campaigns and brand awareness strategies, rather than contemporary art, that "lessons in life" are being forged, and they are reinforced at every juncture where consumers are, in the advertiser's delightful euphemism for delivering a message, "hit." The penetration is so complete that a simple trip to a museum becomes a mental battle against the corrosive power of the commercial aesthetic. At the "Lessons in Life" exhibit, even a powerful, decidedly anti-consumerist work like Margaret Bourke-White' s World's Highest Standard of Living was not immune. It's a famous image, contrasting a breadline against a billboard that portrays a shining, airbrushed family in a new automobile, driving toward the future, emboldened by the words "There's no way like the American Way." Today, however, the work can hold little impact. The dashing ofimages is but a tool for holding viewers' attention, and Bourke-White' s greatest legacy, the Gap now informs us, is that she wore khakis.

146 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


And now that the underbrush has been cleared, advertisers, armed with visions of their own future, proclaiming the benefits of "new media," and the "virtual brand," prepare to usher in an interactive future in which every individual-the terminus in the long march of market segmentation-can be personally "hit" with their very own message. "In this hyper-customized world," writes Andrew Susman, an associate at Chapman Direct, in Advertising Age, "the inter-relationship of advertising and programming increases because customer tastes and preferences are known in advance. Programming and advertising become interchangeable, as consumers are living inside a perpetual marketing event." (italics added) Through the same media lens that allows us to observe military actions unfold on CNN, we can watch in wonder and dismay as these lessons in life are crafted. The exploits of their creators is the stuff of the daily business pages, where we read panegyrics to the latest doings of the hip, young agencies, whose brash Creative Directors play frisbee in office hallways and plot wholesale cultural upheaval. This is not business; this is art, and rest assured, the Madison Avenue mandarins of hipthe spotniks-are more interesting than their vulgar Wall Street brethren. Just listen to The New Yorker rave about the "young and hip-looking" thirty-four-yearold copywriter who (gasp) sports an earring, who (hold steady now) has an impressive collection of punk rock records, and who (this is getting very counterhegemonic) was able to listen to a Japanese noise band until 3 a.m. and still present five campaigns later that day. Such boardroom bohemian ism reveals another shift: the "Madison Avenue boys" once wrote up the Beats because they were both fascinated and miffed by their lifestyle of unscheduled casualness, sloppy clothes, good records, and the fact that they "got away with it," as Paul Goodman writes in Growing Up Absurd:, today, however, Madison Avenue has become the Beats, or whatever the counterculture is, and through their works they establish the limits on how far out the fringe can go. They may be young, but as the mobilizers and disseminators of lessons in life they have been granted enormous resources. If the latest model of the twenty-tothirty demographic has moved away from drinking hard liquor, and your annual profits on sales of Scotch are down 12%, you do not simply sit on your hands and assume cultural changes in diet and health are taking place. You unveil a $23 million campaign, with ads in magazines and "sampling events" at 1,000 bars and nightclubs on the East Coast. Or, if you're going after a bigger target, you bring in the heavy guns. In China, for example, you need the tools mentioned above but you've also got to worry about not breaching guo qing, i.e. respect for the local customs. Luckily, regional specialists can be snatched from academia, as in the case of Kellogg's foray into the republics of the former U.S.S.R., where cultural expertise is duly necessary when you're trying to "teach people a whole new way to eat breakfast." In regions where consumer products are widely available for the first time and consumers are "learning how to buy," as an adman in Mexico put it, advertising must point out the correct paths of consumption. A century ago the BAFFLER路

147


same breakfast lessons were applied in the U.S. to get people to switch from their "heavy" traditional breakfasts to the "simple yet satisfying" Quaker Oats. Nowadays, when presented with these lessons in the advertised life, American consumers react with a fairly instinctual irony. The young especially, we are told, have developed an ability to shrug off advertising, and they are said to stray warily from overly blatant attempts to sell them. And yet they still buy the products. The New York Times, discussing MTV's new shopping network, reports that "by using sarcasm and irony to sell products (instead of the saccharine sincerity of QVC or HSN's hard sell and emphasis on bargain prices), MTV is effectively co-opting critics by not taking itself too seriously." Critics held securely at bay, MTV gleaned more than $1 million from a trial-run "Woodstock" promotion. Does anyone still believe that the MTV generation is "suspicious" of advertising? The article assumes, matter-of-factly, that sarcasm and irony are enough to placate critics. What it does not explain is why this is even possible, now that we are all aware that advertisers have seized upon irony as the cultural in-joke of the century. As everyone stands around winking and nudging, why does no one see fit to question irony itself? Of course they are trying to sell me something, the ironic response begins, but I know that, and isn't it a funny ad?The use of irony is shrouded in another, more distant, form of irony: since ads are now viewed with sneering, condescension, and the assumption that they are in no way effective; it then comes as little surprise that no one is disturbed or even really notices when advertising begins to appear in new places. Indeed, the advertised life has settled in around us as though it were just another part of culture, with the myriad voices that once railed against the consumerist onslaught reduced to a nervous whisper on the pages of small magazines. As Mark Crispin Miller has noted, it is now much more difficult to discern this encroachment because the media has become the surroundings. MTV is the bellwether of this change, and its perfect model. MTV is what the Harvard Business Review calls a "marketspace," a consensual hallucination where "product becomes place becomes promotion." In the "marketspace" the contextor cultural surroundings-not the contentof the actual programming-is what attracts advertisers, and once brand loyalty has been formed at the context level the number of promotional opportunities blossoms exponentially. In the MTV marketspace, the network sells its identiry with the same tactics it uses to sell products, and, at last, vehicle, style, and

148 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


the language of the quarterly report have become one. Thus does the network's outlook "for a radically different future" derive directly from the business imperatives of the most conservative past.

Brand Fetishism In the advertised life, the paradoxical relationship between consumer passivity and active public consumption has been consummated. In terms of how many goods are purchased, today's consumer is more active than ever. But in another sense the consumer has also become more passive than ever, having arrived at the necessary end of a historical process in which people in Western countries have become gradually removed from the goods they purchase. Where buyers and sellers once argued over the price and quality of necessary goods in marketplaces, today's consumers act out a pre-written script, purchasing the most heavily-advertised brands, no longer even needing to leave the house to buy. Marx's famous fetishism of commodities, once considered a radical notion, is now readily accepted on Madison Avenue as the modern way to sell products people do not actually need. When people began to define their inner selves through outward appearance, Richard Sennett has noted, the products they purchased began to acquire great meaning. After 100 years of mass consumer culture, we identify ourselves by our goods more publicly than ever-you can see it represented most neatly in the emergence of see-through shopping bags. But as brand awareness and advertising campaigns become larger than the products themselves we increasingly identify our place in society through advertising. Not only is it difficult to imagine the labor that goes into products, it is now difficult to see the products aside from the brand or the lifestyle they represent: the "product idea" is more important than the product. Marketers fully realized the brilliant utility of this strategy long ago, recognizing that once they have successfully launched a brand into the daily vernacular, it is no longer necessary to sell "goods." The Gap, for example, recently began selling shoes and launched a small campaign to announce this; they will no doubt use a similar strategy with their soonto-debut GapScent. Because the Gap is a "lifestyle brand," the nature of the products are virtually irrelevant-the buyer already knows what to expect from the Gap. In the advertiser's view this is a good thing. Brands are a handy device for papering over nasty ambiguities like how things are made and what product is "right" for a person's socioeconomic standing and lifestyle. This strategy has been taken to ridiculous extremes, as in the case of sunglasses, hiking shoes, water, beer, and countless other cases where the most everyday products are socially totemized according to price and the identity with which the brand has become associated. As Sal Randazzo, Senior Vice-President and Director ofDMB&B, put it in his book,

Mythmaking on Madison Avenue: How Advertisers Apply the Power of Myth and Symbolism to Create Leadership Brands, a brand is "a perceptual entity that exists is a psychological space in the consumer's mind." The advertiser believes the brand BAFFLER â&#x20AC;˘

149


fills some sort of primal need, and that with the right orchestration, the brand eventually becomes part of the consumer's "psychic makeup." The old credit card ad began, "you may not know me," but the brand dispels such anonymity: I smoke Merits. I drink Pepsi. I drive a Pontiac. You do know me. In the advertised life the power of brands allows the traditional formula of companies paying for advertising to reach consumers to be reversed. Consumers will now pay corporate sponsors for the right to display the detritus of corporate marketing on their person. What advertisers call "promotional wearables" is perhaps the most perverse example: people actually turn their own body into a marketing vehicle by wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with "The Gap," or, as was the fashion a year ago, by physically "branding" a corporate logo on their body. Madison Avenue insists there is deep myth and symbolism going on here, or worse yet, it makes ridiculous claims of distinctiveness: describing their entrance into the premium bottled-water market, a Donna Karan New York executive said that "it just seems so right. Water is international. It's real. It's part of you." Or, as the ad director for another designer-water brand said, "Pure. Refreshing-all those adjectives that go with it describe both us and the water" (one wonders if "shallow" and "transparent" are among those adjectives). And yet, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out, DKNY uses the same water as Sierra Gold, which is available in stores for under a dollar a bottle. For the passive consumer, economic activity is reduced to choosing between the advertised life offered by Brand A or Brand B, proudly trumpeting their individuality in this" consumer democracy" by putting either the Coca-Cola or Pepsi-Cola poster on their wall. The entrepreneurs behind a company called Posters Preferred that actually sells advertisements to college students, told the New YorkTimesthat, when asked why they chose to purchase the posters, people usually answered, "To express something about myself" Alexander Abrams and David Lipsky, authors of "The Boomlet Generation," an editorial that appeared a while back in the New York Times, epitomize the ontological squalor of the advertised life. Presenting the article as a "notice to advertisers," they decry the failure of marketers to notice the" irresistible purchasing power" of their generation (aged 24 to 32) amongst the hoopla over their "noisier, younger siblings." No, they plead with advertisers, we are not the grunge kids, those harbingers of"true nihilism." We are the ones with the real jobs, the real apartments, the real girlfriends, and we'll gladly drink your real drink if you would just reciprocate a bit and direct some ads our way. And, please, do not let our passage into adulthood (that is, once Abrams and Lipsky are done "waiting for the economy to give us a chance to become the adults we hoped we could be") proceed without appropriate advertising mirroring and guiding every step we take as we grow up absurd. But they need not worry. The market will see that their needs are met, thanks to the efforts of people like youth marketing director Jane Rinzler, who said in one interview that "Gen-X' ers ... spent $95 billion in 1992, which is a significant

150 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


market. It's time they started building brand loyalty."

The Closing ofthe Frontier The manifest destiny of American business is not a matter of occupying vast tracts of empty land, but of seeking out new frontier territories of the mental and the built environments in which to plant their brand-label flags. With pioneering fervor they stalk the last few stretches oflogo-free America, hoping to get a piece of the rapidly filling market-niche frontier with a new round of "place-based," or "outof-home" advertising. "Place-based media is like the Wild West of the American frontier," David Verklin, director of Hal Riney and Partners, San Francisco, said in Advertising Age. "It's an exciting freewheeling brawl, and there's a new idea coming to town every week." These ideas are, just to name a few, the "Good Health Channel," a television channel providing health information and advertising to be placed in 1,500 pediatric offices, modeled on Whittle Communications' now-defunct Medical News Network; NBC On-Site, which is "being positioned as an 'out-of-home TV network' to be packaged as another' daypart' of NBC ... the goal is to reach a critical mass of supermarkets and other mass retailers nationwide"; and, courtesy, of Food Court Entertainment, Cafe USA, a television channel intended for shopping mall food courts, which is boasting a consumer recall for ads" about three times higher" than conventional broadcast media, and is, according to the company's president, "hitting the people when they are relaxed, sitting down to eat with $100 in their pocket." There are few boundaries to the search for market share. And yet, if anything should challenge the eminent domain of advertising, its makers rush to dispose of the threat with free speech rhetoric and legal intimidation. Efforts to crack the public sphere with anything but advertising are done so at great risk these days. Several years ago, the New York-based artist Michael Lebron attempted to rent space in New York's Penn Station to display his artwork. Fine, Amtrak said, until they learned that the mural was a satire of the Coors Brewing company's support of right-wing causes. The mural, which featured a Coors can streaking like a missile towards a village in Nicaragua over a caption that read "Is it the Right's Beer Now?", was now a problem, and Amtrak officials, no doubt lobbied by Coors officials, decided that regulations prohibited displaying politically-based advertising. Lebron is challenging Amtrak in the Supreme Court on First Amendment grounds, but even if Lebron wins his case, he faces an ultimate challenge from Coors: since the can is trademarked, they argue, it cannot be reproduced without permission. Lebron, who has worked in advertising, has now himself encountered the Golden Rule of the advertised life: you will be exposed to nothing but commercial speech. Coors spokespersons respond haughtily, "it's just unfortunate that some people want to advance their own agenda with unfair swipes at the brewing company." But can one mural overcome the agenda of identity-making that Coors BAFFLER â&#x20AC;˘

151


has sculpted through countless hours of commercials, inserts, and promotional giveaways, all celebrating a cult of vibrant youth sipping the purity of the Rocky Mountains? Coors, like any corporation in the advertised life, is able to squash dissent through the sheer bulk and frequency of its message. It is appropriate that the company's latest campaign fantasizes about a mythical "Coors Light Channel" which is "always on"-an effective metaphor, really, for the boundless saturation of the public imagination that corporate consciousness demands. Should this reach be threatened with restrictions on advertising, corporate lobbyists in Washington are ready. Private individuals may cling desperately to the First Amendment, which protects speech in public places, but there are very few "public places" left. And so, with the rules of the game firmly set, the boundaries of the advertised life expand. Children too can be "in the demo," with the "My First Sony" and "Baby Guess" lines teaching children their first consumerist lessons in life and allowing parents to accessorize infants to their own designs. Place-based advertising is even moving out of the retail arena and into what used to be known as "films." The tiein (or "integrated marketing") campaign arranged between McDonald's and the The Flinstones was about more than just getting a Big Mac into a few frames; as a marketing exec told Business Week, the fast-food chain wanted "to be integrated into the property." A seemingly less commercial film such as Forrest Gump, which was heralded as a film that spoke to America's "traditional values," was actually, as Advertising Age noted approvingly, "providing positive image enhancement for the Nike brand." With imperial arrogance advertisers feel that if there is space in society that is not currently being used to sell a product, then it is theirs to exploit. You can hear it in the voices of the "place-based pioneers." The president of New Jersey-based Quantum Systems Inc., the company that has taken out a patent to put ads on phone lines, said in one interview, "we're talking about the nooks and crannies of dead space where companies can play advertising and not offend customers." In describing their low-watt radio station that reaches 92,000 people per day stuck in traffic near New York's Lincoln Tunnel, Atlantic Records' vice president of promotion said "it's a completely unused, radical new form of advertising." But marketers have only recently discovered the public space with the greatest potential of all: the information superhighway. Once the government has stopped funding it, advertisers realize, commercial interests will be the only ones who can sustain its vast infrastructural and administrative needs. At that point we can justifiably say that the electronic frontier will have been closed. Just as the closing of the geographic frontier in 1890 paved the way for nationally standardized brands, markets, and products, the closing of the electronic frontier means that the decadesold anarchic and weird electronic subculture depicted by Thomas Pynchon and others will be replaced by a smooth, well-heeled cybermall. There will be little room, if any, for experimentation or unscripted events, only products and services for sale in a slick graphic environment that will seek to capture the consuming imagination

152 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


in the same way mass retailers did a century ago when they unveiled the glass, sound, and lights of their giant commercial palaces. At a recent industry convention a chief executive at Time Warner told the crowd assembled to "stop thinking about it as the 'information superhighway' and start thinking about it as the 'marketing superhighway.'" While hackers may have temporarily checked the appearance of ads in cyberspace, ad agencies are alre::ady meeting with Microsoft and other companies to discuss ways to reduce consumer opposition to "interactive" ads on advertiser-supported data networks. By couching the accumulation of demo~ graphic: data in the democratic-sounding shibboleth of "interactivity," marketers can foist the burdens ofidentifying, targeting, and "hitting" the consumer onto fhe conSUmer himself. The consumer will now be able (and, no doubt, willing) to internalize the focus-group process and deliver by their mouse-moving hand their very own demographic profile. To reconfigure Mark Crispin Miller's reconfiguration of Orwell, Big Brother will be you, interfacing.

Leviathan Regained; The Body Demographic If advertising has indeed become more pervasive, the reasons for its expansion have little to do with a logically arranged cabal of agencies and their designs to inflame:: the desires of the American consumer. The significance of advertising'~ encroachment is not in the power of Madison Avenue, but in the near-complete inscription of consumerism into the national life. The appearance of these ads and marketing strategies should not simply trigger an angry response against the adve::rtisers, but rather an appraisal of how the American cultural landscape has changed. It is easy to attack people like Chris Whittle who seek to reform society through purely mercantile means, but we should be prepared to answer when he asks: "Should capitalism be in the public sector?" Actually the question is a bit moot: capitalism now virtually owns the public sector. Many found a victory for "the past" in the Disney corporation's decision to refrain from building a Civil Wartheme park in Virginia, but it may have been a pyrrhic one. Why save a vision of the past from corporate redesign when the present and the future face no such salvation? With litde (,)f the controversy it drew from its Civil War project, Disney has been BAFFLER路

153


building a town called "Celebration" in Florida. This is not to be a mere tourist attraction, but an actual functioning town of 20,000 whose residents will live amongst the pre-World War II architecture of yuppie fantasy. The residents's children will attend a model school linked to a Disney-run national teacher training academy, which Disney will in turn use to market educational software and other innovations. Like the Puritans, Disney seeks a City on the Hill where the dystopian public sector problems that impede American progress can be solved by "imagineering," Disney's entertainment-cum-management philosophy. Should capitalism be in the public sector? If the public believes government to be corrupt and inefficient, and if there has been, as Christopher Lasch argues, a "revolt of the elites," in which the privileged classes, traditionally those who were called upon to fund and build public institutions, have revolted against the ideals ofpublic service and community, sending their children to private schools, insuring themselves against medical catastrophe and locking themselves in high-security private residential retreats, who will support the public institutions that were once considered the cornerstone of liberal democratic achievement? Surely the poor cannot afford such a task, and the middle class has taken refuge in tax revolts and the House of Gingrich. Who then is left? The Cold War consensus has collapsed, the labor movement is a shell of its former self, postmodern fragmentation has reduced ideology and culture to a host of special-interest groups clamoring in the trading-pits of pluralist relativism. Amongst these ruins, only the rapidly consolidating corporations oflate consumer society maintain their form and cohesiveness, their vision and drive; and as their brand managers and image consultants and creative directors spin their seamless narratives they gain the trust of a disenchanted public that sees few alternatives to the advertised life. Recently a Colorado school district that was strapped for cash agreed to lease pieces of school property to advertisers. Rather than criticism they received hundreds of inquiries from other schools wondering how they too could add Burger King logos to the sides of school buses. Almost through default consumerism has become the reigning ideology in American society, and its health is gauged by the way we now understand "freedom of choice". Choice is a catch-all notion in a "consumer democracy": it can mean school choice, where the problems of public schools are somehow solved by allowing the children of the wealthy to opt out; and it can signify personal choice, which, as Lasch notes, has increased in those matters where most people see the need for solid moral guidelines rather than further choices. But above all it refers to an ever-expanding choice of consumer products. The consumption of goods is now so closely linked to identity that a new form of social analysis has emerged in which classes are defined not by property or profession or even income but by what products they purchase. These new social groupings are part of the elaborate schemata of marketers, where demographics and psychographics are merged to create mythical profiles of who buys what and for

154 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


what reasons. In SRI International's Values and Lifestyles System, an industry staple, there are eight basic classes into which all Americans fall. There are no rich, no poor, only those with more resources and less resources. From the low-demo "s trugg1 . " to ers," wh 0 are "b ran d 1oyaI" an d " read tabl'd 01 s an d women ' s magazmes the "Experiencers," who are on top in the "Action Oriented" category and who "buy on impulse" and "listen to rock music," there is a category for everyone. The information gleaned with the "new media" will provide marketers the building blocks of a new Leviathan. The old behemoth of Hobbes gave human form to the "bodies politique," but the new Leviathan is the consumer society's Body Demographic: an individualized mass of consumers, grouped in the humanized portraits of market segmentation, joined by passive observation of a sovereign lifestyle. The new consumer society will no longer need the general advertisements broadcast from without at the entire populace; it will, rather, speak to consumers directly from within. "Aftermarketing" will attempt to make the purchase the first step in the advertised life, rather than the last, and other novelties, such as "relationship billing," will hit consumers with ads based on the kinds of purchases recorded on their credit card statements. As American Demographics put it, new media consumers will "be more tolerant of advertising because it will be more appropriate and customized." In the new media, the goal of the marketing message is not the "purchase," but "further interaction." As life becomes a "perpetual marketing event" we will no longer be able to discern where advertising begins and where it ends. In a realm that could have been designed by Kafka, we shall all awake not as giant insects but as "productive reach" targets of an innovative marketing plan. The next time around it will begin: Someone must have been telemarketing

Joseph K ..

r::-:

.---- - .~~q

~~ ~ ~ ----

..

I~ BAFFLER â&#x20AC;˘

155


Hovv Far Has It Gone? HOJJ FAR HAS IT GONE?

YOU BE THE mooE: Are you SICK and TIRED of the 60's generation? Can you stomach one more "debate" between them and their WWII parents?

A1IlS1(R{ (f WfWIOW F()II/(

'IJiIII~

~ WWII(JI

O-~'~t:)

Are you dis gusted at the right wing/ left wing power monopol y that leaves us out in the cold? Do you feel poisoned by exposure to their toxic ideologies?

If so you are not alone . HOW FAR HAS IT GONE exposes the REAL roots of the social war between the boomer and \"'WII generations . and why their anachronistic battles continue to monopolize the agenda today . The truth about the 60's has been lost in legend . nostalgia. and out right lies . How far has it gone? Just what

IS

"IT" anyway?

Published by: THE OZITHIU1Vf

PRESS

$10.00 per book . Please include postage: $1. 25 per book Send check or money order payable lo: Beverly Garside. P.O. Box 382. Severn. MD 21144- 0382 .

. 'ame :

Address: Quantity __ Price each 5)10.00 Postage

To[al _ _ _

----~~--~--~~--~------------~--~-

mmum WE SHIP FAST!

156 â&#x20AC;˘ BAFFLER

mm~m


SOFT CITY: CHICAGO Seth Sanders More than any other part of the American metropolis, it is the mall and the shopping district that appear to offer power and freedom today. At the end of a day of work, stepping out of an office into a busy district, or at the beginning of some aimless Saturday having just hit the town, a dazed clerk is faced with a spectrum of individual choices that would have made any Oriental Despot (had any ever existed) go crosseyed. But why does one feel that flicker of a sense, that brief intuition of helplessness and predestination? People come here to exercise an easy and harmless, maybe even necessary form of choice; they are defining themselves, satisfying needs. This is what people do, isn't it? But the question is not just one of individual choice; it's stickier, there are other questions that have to be asked first. Do the movements people make in their mallgiven freedom describe other orbits, diagrams of helplessness? People looking for something to do come and have things done to them: you shoot around like a pinball in a huge, beautiful machine, bouncing from section to section with credit card debt racking up like points on the bright display next to Sonic the Hedgehog, the Cop Car, or the Empowered Woman with Big Gun and Breasts. A day at the mallleaves you dizzy, spent, the image of a fading light seared on your retina. You follow your passions, maybe in the etymological sense of the word "passion": "something that one undergoes," recalling dim associations with what it means to be passive, to be a patient. Culture critics sometimes come to bury these places, but they always walk away having praised them. Critics need malls too. Consumer culture comes from something every good leftist intellectual knows is bad. Yet still this terrible culture is worth experiencing, sensing, and criticizing ... no, it is more worth experiencing, it is superiorto other topics, it is the best subject for criticism because it is so exciting. At the mall the culture industry holds a thick bouquet of ironies up to the nose of the critic, a nose that is uniquely cultivated to sense the rank, barn-y edge of ulterior motives, the winking sweetness of self-conscious wit and the fruitiness of historically conditioned images. The more screwed-up a piece ofculture is, the more perplexing it gets, the more pleasure it can bring. Whether you want a day on the town, a cheap spectacle, something to cluck your tongue at, or the topic for a critical, distanced paper on the construction of identity (upper class version: the ironic purchase of rap apparel along with extremely specific rypes ofluxury goods; the self-reflective discourse on the act of shoplifting one has just performed at the Nieman-Marcus .. .lower class version: a day's entertainment, free entry, you can stay for hours and eat cheap, maybe get a job at BAFFLER路

157


the Taco Bell in the food court; later, in malls that don't have food courts at all, there will be extremely specific types ofluxury goods), the mall is there. It quite literally serves all needs, political and critical as well as consuming. As the whole situation gets more complicated and varied, it gets even more interesting. And the most interesting thing about it is the way that all intellectual roads seem to lead back to the mall: criticism somehow ends up partaking of both advertising and consumption simultaneously. When the Chicago Tribune paid a semiotician to cast his withering gaze on Niketown, it had all the starkness of the rustic Aristides coming to praise Rome. The situation may be inevitable for a contemporary critic writing about America. Advertising, after all, is now written with full awareness of postmodern thought, as the makers of virtual reality self-consciously, almost piously work alongside science-fiction writers. The scenario brings to mind the gorgeous contraption invented by the 18th-century economist and philosopher Jeremy Bentham and rehabilitated by Michel Foucault: the Panopticon, a plan for a ring-shaped prison, hospital, asylum or school (it does not matter which) with a guard tower at the center. In separate cells that face inward toward the tower, the inhabitants, amply backlit by a rear window and totally visible to the guards through the bars, must work, study, or sit and be punished. Unable to see the guards or their neighbors, the people in the cells assume that they are under constant surveillance. After a while they begin to monitor themselves; they are the subjects and objects of this power, which now requires no outside enforcer. What has happened? The people in the cells have been made totally individual, totally visible. The image is grotesque (you can see it today at Stateville Penitentiary), but seems to loom over us. Foucault used it as a figure for the new, self-policing individual that was being created in Bentham's time; today, we can see its shape in the pattern that our intellectual freedoms take. As we enter the context of the mall, of the discourse about culture, where every individual is clearly visible, articulated, with opinions and intentions and desires, something terribly interesting starts to happen. The same forces that render the critic visible and articulate also start to determine what that critic says and does. Attraction and interest, like light, stage the speaker. This is the diagram in which we are inscribed. Criticism soon expresses itselflike advertising, soon it creates new slogans and becomes a normal part of the ebb and flow of cultural consumption. This embarrassing insight is nothing particularly new; it is one of the ideas that Jean Baudrillard, the official theorist of Club Med, stole from the failed revolutionary Guy Debord. But there are two misconceptions that arise from our new situation: the first is that it is good; the second is that there is nothing we can do about it. I will try to destroy them both in order. The argument that the culture of consumption, as a subdivision of and complement to the economy, is here to stay and we may as well make full use of it (since it is productive of pleasure and possibility), is both clearly correct and

158 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


profoundly trivial. The anthropologist T alal Asad elaborates this: it is often remarked in a triumphal tone that "subcultures" (us) or "local cultures" (the natives) are not total robots. Since audiences actively reinterpret and use the things handed down to them by global capitalism, they are therefore individual and free, the "authors of their own history." Indeed, it is obvious that members of subcultures, whether upstate New York Satan Teens, South Chicago P-Stone Ranger gang members, or Fanzine writers, are living by their own cultural logic. But does it really matter that they can invent their own quaint 'misreadings' of a world substantially controlled by people bigger than they are? Like the members of Kwakiutl society, their "authorship," as Asad puts it, "consists merely in adjusting consciously to [Western capitalist] forces and giving that adjustment a meaning." Pushing the metaphor of "authorship" past some viciously ironic breaking point, Asad says that " ... the main story line is authored by the capitalist juggernaut, and local peoples provide their own interpretations in local performances." It is a commonplace that identity today is fluid; immigrants can change countries and negotiate new allegiances between different cultures; pop, fashion, or food from any one place in the world could show up anywhere else, creating new contexts, hybrid tastes and selves. The cheerfulness, even sense of triumph, that accompanies statements of postmodern rootlessness (moral, mental, physical, and what-have-you) also strikes Asad as strange, for the ability to invent oneself, the profound sense of mobility available to many today, is not simply a gift. "Ifpeople are physically and morally uprooted, they are more easily moved, and when they are easy to move, they are more easily rendered physically and morally superfluous." In fact, it is exactly the forces of business and government that benefit from the radical mobility of things, whether it is the Israeli government moving Bedouin off of land, the Urban Outfitters chain selling identity accessories to rootless twentysomethings, the retailers existing at the next level up the scale selling homemakers goods when the twentysomethings get some money and decide to put down roots, or the city ofChicago erasing old neighborhoods and building a Nerf version of history at River North. The second bad idea is that we are living in a new era that is somehow a radical departure from past history. The notion of the universality and immortality of the "post-modern condition" is a sort of musty blanket that insulates and hampers anyone who buries their head in it. As the days slog by, Baudrillard, Fukuyama, and others who advertised an end to history seem less profound, more products of their time. Ask a Palestinian Muslim revolutionary ifhistory is over; ask a black American lesbian about the authenticity ofexperience. I cannot predict what they will say (you really do have to ask them to know), but the answers might help to trace the questions as a product of a certain, quite limited and clearly corporate-sponsored approach to knowledge and reality. People with money and power still take over land in order to locate more money and power; a lot of energy still goes into making people think they need to be told what to do. Mobility, subculture, and Postmodern rootlessness: these are the fields that give capitalism and its super-culture BAFFLER路

159


room to move. If you don't believe me, visit River North. One of the remarkable things about River North, a shopping and tourism district just north of the Chicago River featuring sites based on the themes of "Hollywood," "Gangsterland Chicago," and "Rock 'n' Roll," is that there is no particular reason for it to be where it is. Certainly there are a number of factors that must have caused the developers to build this strip of entertainment palaces in a central, safe, high-rent area, rather than, say, the isolated, lower-middle~class reaches of North Hyde Park, but there is nothing specific. It has no history that you cannot divorce from the place as it is today, it did not grow over a long time due to a series of contingencies. Someone just put it there. Obviously, the people who organized the place performed studies, made comparisons, did ponderous amounts of research, gathered numerous wealthy investors and came up with bold ways to put River North on people's mental maps. But then they just put it there. Although it has probably been described somewhere as a tourist Mecca, River North is, at least in this way, really more like the Biblical Temple in Jerusalem. J. Z. Smith explains: ''There is nothing inherent in the location of the Temple in Jerusalem. Its location was simply where it happened to be built ... To put this another way, the Temple in Jerusalem was the focus of a complex, self-referential system. It could, in principle, have been built anywhere else and still have been the same. It required no rationale beyond the obvious one that, once having been declared a temple and accepted as such ... it became a place of clarification - most particularly of the hierarchical rules and roles ofsacred/profane, pure/impure. In an apparent paradox, its arbitrariness, its unmotivated character, guaranteed its ordering role. There was nothing to distract from the system." Once having been declared a tourist attraction, and accepted as such, River North became meaningful and interesting. This quality of "softness" is shared by both places, their significance tied to how very flexible and arbitrary they are. Standing in a surreally huge line outside Planet Hollywood, I notice a pair of spotlights that do not light up the sky. They are lousy spotlights. They are in fact not spotlights, but big, flat decorations on the side of the barnlike Planet Hollywood structure, cutouts in the shape of big lamps with long rays oflight projecting from them. They produce a faint glow from the neon that decorates them, that is all. Nodody needs to be told where River North is and there is no particular event tonight, no singularity to which some solitary driver might perhaps be attracted by a beam piercing the black sky. When a Baffler researcher asked why the crowd outside Planet Hollywood was there, neither they nor the guard at the door could give an answer. Of course, a perceptive businesswoman might supply one: the place is celebrity-owned and frequented, and represents a watered-down version of some part of culture that the customers want to imitate. But what makes the creation of a place like this possible? What allowed the investors and builders to create this place and the tourists to put

160 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


themselves in it? Perhaps it is the perfect, unmotivated character of the place as a tourist attraction ex nihilo. The success of River North seems tied up with its quality as system: pure, complex, and self-referential. And that is why I avoid talking about its content, about the things on display there; I don't think that's the point. In its arbitrariness lies its own weird sort of freedom and power. The "soft" city writes its own charter. People go here to be inscribed in its diagram, to mesh with different levels of this intricate machine. The final question we are left with is provoked, in a winking way, by the sign that faces the customer leaving Ed Debevic's "diner"-themed restaurant: "YOU ARE NOW LEAVING ED DEBEVIC'S AND ENTERING GRIM REALITY." The dj is not embarassed to reveal that he has only a single cd player to spin platters with; the chatter of the crowd smooths over the bad segues. It's better this way, anyhow. There is nothing malevolent or lacking in his falseness, nor in his superiority. Pure systems, self-conscious as they are, know they are more interesting than the world. So do we. And the only response that is not in collusion with them is to tear our eyes from them that we might see the world again. And so we finish in North Hyde Park, a place, as Smith would say, invested with thick temporal significance. A lot of important things happened here; here, and nowhere else; here, in a particular way. There are no signs marking the apartment on Drexel boulevard where composer and bandleader Sun Ra ran his tiny, private record label in the 60's with the support of businessman and visionary Alton Abraham. There are certainly no signs marking the strip of racially and ethnically mixed bars and brothels that the University of Chicago, where Smith now teaches, tore down in the 50' s to make way for more wholesome and controllable entertainment. This place has an ecology (one can chart the frequency by season with which books stolen by the neighborhood's poor from the neighborhood's aspiring academic class show up in the neighborhood's ancient and dignfied used bookstores, perhaps to be bought back at a substantial markup), but it is no pure system. But to the extent that this place can be remembered and imagined, to the extent that it can be talked about and lived in, it represents a topic for thought that has not been made interesting solely by investors. The word "topic" has its roots in a word for "place;" as we choose topics for our attention, we choose places to focus our power. The people that run the city of Chicago need, periodically, to efface these "hard," historically dense places; the stinking, 19th-century-Iooking Maxwell Street Market reminds us ("us!") of poor Jews and shows us poor Blacks; worse, it is standing in the way of someplace more abstract. Good old Maxwell Street is, admittedly, modern, already part of a frayed diagram of power and attention, of arguments about how to use civic space and opporunities for slumming. But it's not very mobile, and it's not very self-conscious, and it's not all that interesting from a theoretical point of view. A "soft" business district is both more profitable for businessmen and more amenable to police. The question is which sort of place you'd rather think about; the question is BAFFLER â&#x20AC;˘

161


where you'd rather live. The fact is that people will build more Jerusalem Temples, sometimes within the hollowed-out skeletons of Maxwell Streets; even now malls are being constructed within respectably bleak, 19th-century-Iooking Brooklyn buildings (the Soft Sell for the Soft City; the "Hard Look"). Which means the question is, necessarily, a tough and open one. To what extent are the structures that shelter you, render you visible and audible, a trap? Buildings, journals, fields of thought define individuals and enable choices; in creating particular kinds of freedoms they become invisible. Realize how they enable you to exist, and know that they're not all the same. Although most of us live in both the "hard" and the "soft" cities at once, and have to in order to get the things we want, we don't realize that we can redraw our own maps strategically. See the two cities on top of each other; know that they are at war; take a side. Where you live, how you buy, how you move through the city's spaces; these all matter. Map and think the hard city of diverse, spotty human history; like the ashes of a burnt corpse rubbed on the eyes in Celtic myth, this will let you see and hence enter a usually invisible, but more real and magical world.

Thanks to Ana Cox, whose idea the whole River North thing was, Limey Herman, who critiqued it from the imide, Chuck jones, without whom it would have been less interesting, and james Steincamp, without whom it would not have been typed in.

162 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


BAFFLER路

163


Lemmings It h.tdn't snowed one miserable flake until the night we returned from the hospital. Bill successfully aimed the car for the two black narrow grooves on the snow~covered pavement of Montgomery Street, while my attention waned Window-ward away from the small talk. En route were the homes of my first venture as a working stiff. Originally it was my brother's route, but he had become fiercely ill, quarantined, undiagnosed. I remember waking up in the darkness, in the snow, folding each newspaper, sparing no space in the 2S-pound bag which weighed on my almost 11 year old shoulders. The first and most important paper was taken downstairs to papa's reading table where he'd later sit with a pot of tea, read, and snip articles out of this daily source of entertainment, which he later stacked into neat piles. Dorothy Chustak's wedding announcement, "Girl, 6, Wins TWirling Title" "No Dump For Junk Barge" "Therapy Center Now Enrolls 31 Children" "Optimism Is Its Own Reward" "Pistol Club Shooting Results Are Announced" "3 Found in laPorte Lagoon"

Next, I'd be out the door and up to Dr. Mather's, the Penrod's, Staehle's, (not Ann)-but Pat Rose's family home, the Allen's, DaViS', the Kennedy's, Katie McGuire's, Doyle's, QuitasoI's, then up to Oak Street, those people with the barking pair of Schnauzers, Mrs. Hass and her mother, the Long's, the Kaplan's, Greg Ligman's, the Roser's, up Pike hill, the Hennage's, MacPherson's. None of them even came to my brother's funeral. Not one.

Just Bill Kallos. He'd given the route over to my brother.

IWUW\A MANNING Sings wtth the OrIginal ArtIsts CD

164 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER

SAllY TIMMS

To the Land of Milk and Honey CD


History When You Can Have Leaders? Who Needs

Dave Mulcahey This transactional list Of questions for winners, This analysis To abolish losers, Is the mythical gist, Blud und Eisen severe, The Geistesgeschichte Of California. -The Red Crayola, "Born to Win (Transactional Analysis with Gestalt Experiments)," 1981.

Success and how to achieve it. Try to imagine the vast amount of time and human energy wasted pondering this topic, the money people have spent on books, tapes and seminars that teach "success" like some sort of 12-step program. Of course, the form of success is hardly mysterious-we learn it on the school playground. It is the content of success that is so elusive, the grail after which the American businesman so obsessively clamors. To him, "success" is a dark mystery, a matter ofcorrect handshakes, ofwearing the right color tie, ofrehearsing the right shibboleths; it is a lifestyle, a state ofgrace gained by undergoing the ablutions of Positive Mental Attitude, by poring over the liturgy of pseudo-sacred texts like The Leader as Martial Artist, by stirring to the exhortations of Twenty-one Days to Unlimited Power. One anticipates the imminent establishment of The Church of Christ, Management Consultant. Until then we will have to make due with the ministrations of our lay technocracy. Recently I happened across the psychological profiles of two men vying for a promotion within the management hierarchy of an international computer marketing company. Both men are currently area sales managers, and each has fixed his eye on the next echelon ofpower, the next rung on the ladder to the executive suite-yes, they both want to be regional sales manager. The job is not simply there for the taking. No, each candidate must first submit to a psychological investigation, a formality which the Many ofthe names, characters, and incidents described in this essay are either a product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. BAFFLER â&#x20AC;˘

165


introductOlY blurb (unthreateningly titled "Development and You") claims will "identify and assist in the development of the potential of the company's people." The assessment consists of three parts: a personal interview, an intelligence test, and "a series ofpaper and pencil exercises." All information gleaned from these examinations, the applicants are promised, will be analyzed "in a careful, professional manner in our efforts to assist you and your company." The applicants are ensured ofa debriefing at the conclusion of the process, at which time they can avail themselves of ample opportunity for" communicative interchange." Perhaps ofutmost concern to the applicants, theyand their psychological profiles are guaranteed utmost confidentiality: "All of the information which you provide will remain in our offices and only we will have access to it." Oops, trust betrayed. When will we learn that even the experts lie? In this case I'm not referring to the fact that these very personal dossiers fell into the grubby hands of an unscrupulous Baffler writer, but to a much more outrageous breach: far from being competent to analyze the data surrendered by the applicants in the "careful, professional manner" promised, the psychologist presiding seems to be, upon examination of the applicants' case write-ups, a charlatan, a mercenary interloper. But more about that in a moment. Let's meet the contestants. At first glance, we seem to have come upon a rather fortuitous snapshot of the diversity ofthe American managerial elite. One ofthe applicants-we'll call him Chadcomes to the table with essentially all the advantages that the suburban East Coast meritocracy can provide. He indicates that his father was a successful lawyer and an avid sailor. Like his siblings, Chad did well in high school and went on to attend an Ivy League college where he studied economics and business administration. His fondest memories of college days focus on his athletic career and care-free fraternity highjinks, where, no doubt, this 6'3" blond, blue-eyed stud must have cut some figure. Chad comes from a strong, stable family background where bedrock values of hard work and play figured prominently. Imbued with a deep affinity for the comforts of a prosperous home, he expresses a desire to reproduce those conditions for the next generation of Chads with his fiancee, a doctor (bonus points!). Chad's rival presents a more problematic case. This man-let's call him Vern-has struggled to get what he has in achieved in life. His father was killed in the Korean War when Vern was very young, and his mother later remarried to a rather undependable, emotionally distant man with a drinking problem. In spite of these handicaps, Vern persevered. After an unremarkable high school career, he worked his way through a couple ofjunior colleges and ended up at a rather obscure state university, which in due course conferred upon him the distinction baccalaureus scientiaefor his study ofbusiness administration. Thus endowed, Vern answered the call of salesmanship, eventually settling in the company for whom he currently works, where he built up a decade-long track record ofproven sales ability. Vern's prosperity might be said to exemplify the ideal American type of business success, the individualist who creates his own opportunities by dint of raw intelligence, hard work and determination to overcome adversity. But success has not come without a price-Vern expresses regret about the breakup of his 166 â&#x20AC;˘ BAFFLER


first marriage and would like to spend more time with his current family. While the dossiers fail to record the firmness of Chad's handshake or the shine of Vern's tassel loafers, they do provide the more quantifiable particulars. For example, our Ivy Leaguer boasts an impressive IQof 126; but Vern's no backwoods rube, clocking in at 115. This being America, earning power doesn't necessarily correlate to brain power: Vern's $54,000 a year salary will take him to Vegas a few more times than frat boy's $47,000. Not to worry for Chad, though; his fiancee's $85,000 salary looms on the horizon to help him whittle away the $320,000 mortgage on his Suburban Colonial. Vern's mare takes home a modest $25,000, but one ~ the feeling that's the way Vern likes it These data tell us much, but the psychologist's challenge is to divine those intangible, inefFable traits ofpersonality that make one a leader among men-{)f in this case, that make a regional sales manager a leader among area sales managers. Subtle tools of discernment are called for. In the case of our psychologist they are: the Thematic Apperception Test, which presents respondents with pictures and requires them to

compose narratives to accompany them; the Cornell Index, a list of 127 yes-or-no questions querying the respondents about their moods, emotions, and psychosomatic symptoms; and an exercise called" sentence completion," wherein respondents are given a set of opening clauses from which they are to construct sentences. Ofall the exercises, the latter turns out to be the most important in derermining the fate of the two applicants. In fact, the final evaluations submitted to their companythe document that gave the final word on their respective abilities to manage the sale of computer equipment on a regional basis- amounted to little more than a cobbling together ofthe phrases that each man wrote down in an exercise each probablycompleted quickly and thoughtlessly. Sentence fragments like, "I get down in the dumps when... ," "I lose my temper if .. ," "She became irritated when they... ," and "He suffered most BAFFLER路

167


from ... " are calculated to tease out responses that will inevitably be negative in nature. These are then dutifully transcribed by our "careful, professional" psychologist as potential emotional weaknesses of the candidate. Other fragments in the exercise trawl for motivational deficiencies ("It's fun to dayd ream about... ," "In spare moments I... ,""0n weekends I... ,""My greatest ambition ... "), inappropriate social or political attitudes ("Careers for women are ... ," "A husband should..."), and indications of the extent to which the respondent is beholden to the strictures of bourgeois lifestyle ("Having to care for a house is ... ," "On vacation I like to ... "). The most telling fragments are those that directly engage the responden ton power issues in the work place. "I like the sort ofworker who ... ," "Bosses seem to think... ," "Company po1 '" ICY " IS ..." , "Taking orders... ,""H' avmg to work overtIme ... - these are nothing other than attempts to see how pliable, how willing to kiss ass, how unwilling to make waves, the candidate is. And then there is this corker- "A leader is... "-which gives the candidate a chance to flex his rhetorical muscles. Ifon the surface our little snapshot ofprofessional aspiration promised to be an epic clash of two great stock figures, the Old Boy Network scion and the Can-Do Bastard, the data upon which the presiding psychologist ultimately judged the candidates proved to be less interesting. In fact, theywere remarkably identical-and identically inadequate in revealing anything important about either man. Despite their divergent backgrounds and education the key information these two contenders related in the crucial sentence completion exercises was framed in exactly the same jargon. (There were amusing and illustrative differences which were not factored into the final evaluations: "Getting promoted ahead of a man ... " was intellectualized by Chad as "a natural course ofevents, and we must grow and learn to accept it," while Vern answered more directly that it is "what I work for." Chad remarks lightly that "Working in a room full of women ... " is "either quite pleasant, or a real pain in the neck," while Vern comments more laconically that it is "different.") Not surprisingly, the final evaluations of these two men are essentially the same. While both are considered to be competent for their current positions, their potential for further advancement is judged to be marginal. They are adequately qualified to remain in their present capacities, reads the final verdict, but every effort should be made to avail them of the proper "managerial firming." The joke ofthe evaluations is that the men have been judged not so much on relevant psychological data-<>n those innate, definable characteristics that make each of us special in our own way-but rather on their failure to adequately think about or tailor their responses for the "expert" into whose hands they have unequivocally placed their professional fates. No doubt they have suffered at the hands ofa quack. Nonetheless, one feels they are themselves partially culpable: by superficially assenting to yes-or-no questions about whether they sweat excessively, whether they become frustrated in traffic, or whether they envy anyone; by thoughtlessly assuming that such information will fly under the radar of an "expert" who is being paid (probably excessively) to warn their employer of the hidden human liabilities they present to their company; these two men have committed grave, albeit thoughtless, errors. They have failed a simple test of

168 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


common sense, largely because they failed to recognize the examination for what it was: an opportunity to parrot the platitudes of ideological correctness. If they had read their Macchiavelli they would have known better than to answer that bullshit straight. When dealing with an industrial psychologist, honesty is hardly the best policy. Asked to complete the sentence fragment, "When I saw the boss coming 1...," the most honestway to respond, depending on one's relations to one's superiors, could range from "I felt a mild mingling of amusement and disgust," to "I lost control of my sphincter." But as we have seen, such frankness hardly recommends one for advancement up the corporate ladder. Rather, the best policy in these situations is to tell them what they want to hear, and to make it believable. To discover what it is that the gatekeepers of corporate hierarchy want to hear, we must turn to the exponentially burgeoning literature of management, and particularly to its most promising ofsubgenres, leadership studies. Ifyou have ever perused in-flight magazines or watched late night television you are probably familiar with the more boneheaded titles of this particular discipline. Racy tracts covering everything from The Leadership Secrets ofAttila the Hun to Macchiavelli on Management are proffered up to the corporate mandarinate as ways of transforming their managerial everyday into the gut-check intensity experienced by their idealized counterparts who appear in the jiggling-cameralgrainy-Hlm television commercials. No less ridiculous, however, are the more sober attempts to frame the problem ofleadership theoretically that are churned out by academics and think tank sinecurists. These range from the historically ambitious (Leadership for the Twenty-first Century) to the patently misbegotten (Leadership is

Empowering People).

The vast majority ofleadership literature is, to be generous, dry as dust. It is entirely fitting that Vern should spend his Saturday afternoons waxing his Camaro rather than curling up with The Wisdom ofTeams. But it is interesting to note, after plowing through the ponderous leadership library, that these texts fall into two categories corresponding roughly to the two recent modalities of economic organization, Fordism and flexible accumulation. The literature of the Fordist era reflects the humble origins ofleadership theory as it grew up in the shadow of scientific management. Scientific management, with its routinization oflabor tasks, its endless data collection, its inexorable drive for efficiency, sowed the seeds that flowered into a powerful middle class ofwell paid technocrats. But it also sowed the seeds of labor disaffection through the deskilling and excessive regimentation it imposed in the work place. It proved unable to deliver production from the vagaries of human volition. Nor could it deliver industry from the crises of overproduction and sagging profits that periodically plagued the early half of this century. As a palliative to worker resentment early leadership experts suggested establishing highly visible avenues of promotion from the rank and file. This project placed a great premium on the identification and advancement of "natural" leaders, and its inaugural BAFFLER â&#x20AC;˘

169


efforts were often laughably crude. For example, the leadership literature in vogue in the 20s and 30s, perhaps influenced by political philosophies across the Atlantic that

spawned afohrerand a duce, concentrated primarily on the identifying traits ofthe" great man," like masculinity and moodiness. The sheer preposterousness of such early forays gave way to more sophisticated models as the sciences ofpsychology and sociology grew more complex and more opaque to the casual observer. Soon, the leadership library swelled with behaviorist studies, interaction-expectancy role theories, exchange theories, situational theories, contingencytheories and so on. The Fordist leader's role was to create what the author of Values Leadership simply calls the "ideological orientation" of the workplace. Other leadership writers talk about the creation ofa"Central BeliefSystem" ortheinculcation ofparticular values that create a "culture" unique to a given corporation. Workers are referred to as "stakeholders," suggesting that their"stake" in an enterprise extends in some mysterious but significant way beyond wages, benefits and more or less stable employment. Managers are exhorted to foster the growth and and education oftheir workers, me,aning ofcourse to enhance them as factors of production. T earns and management circles are suggested as tools to boost productivity, but, far from distributing downward any real power in the corporate structure, in practice they are techniques of assuaging and defusing the discontent of the work force. It is difficult to determine whether this chaotic array of divergent and even contradictory theories helped to solve the structural problem ofsagging profits, but this inconclusiveness has caused no disquiet among the theorists. In fact, precisely because their usefulness has defied such measurement, the phalanxes of industrial psychologists and other experts have thrived, pressing on into the 90s, articulating ever more elaborate theories. Their Sisyphean task represents not so much torment as it does job securiry. "The present emphasis on leadership stems from the perceived lack ofleadership and a general malaise in our organizations," begins yet another addition to the welter in 1992, assaying yet again a problem that is as irrelevant as it is insoluble. What is going on in leadership theory is, of course, what has always gone on in the theorizing of the ruling classes: rationalizing the existing system ofdomination through whatever means present themselves, to demonstrate how the primacy of one group is good for everybody. While leadership literature has done demonstrably little to illuminate the problems of productivity, its pretensions have proved profoundly successful in its ideological function. As a variety ofcultural upheavals and "legitimation crises" have shaken the foundations of most academic disciplines, business schools have emerged unscathed as the university's last bastion of unquestioned metaphysical concepts, institutions dedicated to naturalizing the hierarchy of business-dominated society and propagating the ghostly mysteries of the free market. The palaver of empowerment serves as a warm, fuzzy fig leaf for the deep, institutional problems that plague our economy and our society. But oflate things have changed.

170 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


"Crazy times call for crazy organizations!" shouts the brightly colored bookmark I snatched from the counter ofone ofChicago' s remaining independent bookstores. "The abandonment of everything," "disintegration," "perpetual revolution"-these are key features of the latest mode of business organization (or if you prefer, business disorganization), heralded by seminar circuit evangelist Tom Peters in the new book for which this document is publicity. Lest such a message hearken our memories to the heady days of! 933, a whimsical image ofthe smirking author is pictured below, clad above the waist in business suit and tie, below the waist in florid beach jams. Far from threatening our freedom to enjoy attractive lifestyles, he seems to say, this time of flux promises unbounded opportunity for fun and profit-if, that is, you are an adept ofthe new "chaos." Peters is a man whose writing career traces the evolution of management literature from its obsession with the saccharine humanism of "excellence" into its bizarre present mode of full-on apologetics for flexible accumulation. He has made himself known largely as an idiosyncratic seminar speaker, given to passionate, bombastic oratory exhorting "excellence" as the paramount value of corporate management, a gospel codified in his 1982 best-seller, In Search o/Excellence: Lessom From America 's Best-Run Companies. The premise of this treatise was a nuanced version of the well-rehearsed platitude that a company's most important asset is its "people." In the face of what he called "the current corporate malaise," Peters took the engagingly humanistic line that the excellence of business organizations depended on creacing lean, accessible management hierarchies, down playing the impersonal and overly rationalistic nature of corporate bureaucracy in favor of empowerment on a more personal scale, and, above all, developing a strong corporate "culture" of well-defined "values." In Search o/Excellencewas essentially stale by the time it hit the bookshelves. In 1982, the manufacturing work force was in the midst of the biggest blood bath it had seen in a half a century: that year fully 44 percent of union labor submitted to wage freezes and scalebacks in contract renegotiations; only two years earlier such concessions had been unthinkable. By 1992, the year Peters's blockbuster, Liberation Management: Necessary Disorganization for the NanosecondNineties, was published, the corporate landscape had changed considerably. For a decade major u.s. corporations had been feverishly shedding domestic production facilities and investing in foreign capital markets, where low wages and the absence of troublesome regulation provided vast opportunity for profit. Not coincidentally, American industrial labor had become demoralized and lost most of its power, public policy makers had seized upon service labor as a panacea for the problems of deindustrialization, and vast layers of middle management stared redundancy in the face. Liberation Management represents the passage of management literature from the modern to the postmodern, where it becomes safe to discuss the "demolition of the corporate superstructure" only after the demolition ofhistorical narrative. Gone is all the warm, fuzzy claptrap of the last dispensation of management theory-management theory of the modernist variety, if you will. Gone is all the palaver about the employee as a "stakeholder," a ridiculous and irksome notion to begin with. Gone is that damned BAFFLER路

171


Central Belief Systemthat we worked so hard to get those chumps to swallow; gone are those silly "values" that we had such a hard time defining anyway. Good riddance to developing employee relationships based on expectation, participation and reward. Thank God we'll never have to hear the word "empowerment" again. Hell, while we're at it why don't we just get rid of history: it's so fraught with moral baggage. Done. Peters, in his florid new po-mo duds, has posited Man as Profit Center, subject to liquidation in an instant without warning. The instantaneity of fate defies diachronic narrative. There is no time or space for the underperforming profit center to contest his demise, much less to question the justice of the profit motive. It is foregrounded in the new economic order-it is, and it is happening now. The November issue of TheAtlantic Monthlyshows just how useful the obliteration ofhistory can be to business. Invited to reflect on the "information economy" with which the postindustrial world is fitfully coming to grips, management writer Peter Drucker chose, significantly, to frame his views in a preposterously distorted theory of recent history. The enormous violence of this century-the World Wars, the brutal struggles that signaled the end of colonialism, the ubiquitous violence that has accompanied the repression of social movements all over the world- none of these, in Drucker's view, were significant. They had nothing to do with economic structures and institutions. This century has experienced "violence from above rather than violence from below;" it has been "inflicted on the human race by this century's 'charismatics"'; and it has been absolutely "unconnected with the transformations of society." Well whaddaya know about that. A college-educated person should require only a few seconds to think of fifty or so reasons why Drucker's thesis is wrong. But being wrong doesn't matter here: Drucker is not so much an incompetent historian as he is a malevolent historian, calculatingly inventing a mythology for the Information Age that is designed to evacuate history of any meaning it might have independent of the glorious tale of the Dollar Triumphant. His wildly twisted historical approach reminds one ofnothing so much as the European neofascists desire to rewrite the Holocaust out of history. It is an attack on memory, nothing more. And yet here is Drucker's blather appearing as the cover story in an ordinarily responsible journal of ideas, being hailed as a serious addition to American cultural discourse. The maintenance staff of the Information Age, Drucker warns, will "require a different approach to work and a different mindset" if they are to integrate themselves harmoniously in the new order. They will have to "change their basic attitudes, values and beliefs." And foremost among the "values and beliefs" that must be eradicated are any sense of historical rootedness. We all must learn to "Thrive on Chaos," like Tom Peters, to understand ourselves only as creatures of the immediate moment, to submit without reservation to the platitudes of the industrial psychologist.

172 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


Ode to Protest It's as if to be real you and I must garner backers without a rib to call our own. We make ripples with daily effort and then suddenly flood the place with anger. Ours is the anger of the lowly, we see life from the knees up. What vision we had on that glorious day, even the weather stood aside and let us pass. But because we could not write our hearts could not be read, and when we wrote it's then we could not publish. And so a so-called prince came along and told our story. He called us "feeble weavers" ignorant fury animal instinct wild in the streets. If only we had means then we would give light to meaning. But for now it seems royalty will keep writing the book on right-of-way and we again shall lay our lives by the wayside. - Jennifer Moxley BAFFLER â&#x20AC;˘

173


~. O:!

...

~

~

~

~

~

~

t

~

~

~.

~

O:!

~.

~

l

So f\

~ ~

S'" () ~

~

~

~ () ;e "'I

~ ;§ ;§

i'

~ ~ .... ~

~

~ ~

~

S· ~ ~ ... ~ ~.a h'l .... ... ...

~. O:!

~.

.~

...

.

"'I

O:!

()

;e O:!

~ ~.

~

~

~

t! O:!

~

~

~

~ ~

So f\

~

t

~

~ ~

~

....~

'" ~~ ... S. ~.

!-o..

"S; ~ ~

~

S. ~

f\

.. .

~

continuedfrom page 16 vilified by the countercultural idea. The management theorists and "leadership" charlatans of the Information Age don't waste their time prattling about hierarchy and regulation, but about disorder, chaos, and the meaninglessness ofinherited rules. With its reorganization around Information, capitalism has developed a new mythology, a sort of corporate antinomianism according to which the breaking of rules and the elimination of rigid corporate structure have become the central article of faith for millions of aspiring executives. As the members of new class are, after all, children of the 1960s, it is a faith that is almost indistinguishable from the countercultural idea. The wisdom of the Grateful Dead seems as natural a business philosophy to them as did the orthodoxies of the past to their gray-flannelled predecessors. Dropping Naked Lunch and picking up Thriving on Chaos, a best-selling management text written in 1987 by Tom Peters, the most popular business writer of the past decade, one finds more philosophical similarities than one would expect from two manifestos of, respectively, dissident culture and business culture. If anything, Peters's proclamation of disorder is, by virtue ofits hard statistics, bleaker and more nightmarish than Burroughs's. For this popular lecturer such once-blithe topics as competitiveness and pop psychology there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that is certain. His world is one in which the corporate wisdom of the past is meaningless, established customs are ridiculous, and "rules" are some sort of curse, a remnant of the foolish 50s that exist to be defied, not obeyed. The book's oft-repeated catch-phrase is "A World Turned Upside Down," and at one point Peters launches into an liturgy of doubt that would have made T. S. Eliot proud: So we don't know from day to day the price of energy or money. We don't know whether protection and default will close borders, making a mess of global sourcing and trade alike, or whether global financing will open things up further. We don't know whether merging or de-merging makes more sense, and we have no idea who will be partners with whom tomorrow or next week, let alone next month. Peters's answer is summed up in what may be the book's most overused term, "Revolution!" "To meet the demands of the fast-changing competitive scene," he counsels, "we must simply learn to love change as much as we have hated it in the past." He advises businessmen to

174 •

BAFFLER


become Robespierres of routine, to demand of their underlings, "'What have you changed lately?,' 'How fast are you changing?,' and 'Are you pursuing bold enough change goals?'" "Revolution," of course, means for Peters the same thing it did to Burroughs and Ginsberg, Presley and the Stones in their heyday: breaking rules, pissing off the suits, shocking the bean-counters: "Actively and publicly hail defiance of the rules, many of which you doubtless labored mightily to construct in the first place." Peters even suggests that his readers implement this hostility to logocentrism in a carnivalesque celebration, drinking beer out in "the woods" and destroying "all the forms and rules and discontinued reports" and, "if you've got real nerve," a photocopier as well. He omits reading aloud from a volume of Burroughs or Kerouac, blasting the music ofPresley or the Stones, but that's obvious. This corporate antinomian ismhas become more emphatic in business texts since the appearance of Thriving on Chaos. Capitalism, at least as it is envisioned by the best-selling management handbooks, is no longer about enforcing Order, but destroying it. "Revolution," once the totemic catchphrase of the counterculture, has become the totemic catchphrase of boomer-as-capitalist. The back cover of Thriving on Chaos may have been emblazoned with the slogan, "RX: Revolution!", but this year's favorite business text, Reengineering the Corporation, is even more blunt, bearing the subtitle, "A Manifesto for Business Revolution." The Information Age businessman holds inherited ideas and traditional practices not in reverence, but in high suspicion. Even reason itself is now found to be an enemy of true competitiveness, an out-of-date faculty to be scrupulously avoided by conscientious managers. A 1990 book by Charles Handy entitled The Age ofUn reason agrees with Peters that we inhabit a time in which "there can be no certainty" and suggests that readers engage in full-fledged epistemological revolution: "Thinking Upside Down," using new ways of "learning which can ... be seen as disrespectful if not downright rebellious," methods of approaching problems that have "never been popular with the upholders of continuity and of the status quo." Three years later the authors of Reengineering the Corporation are ready to push this doctrine even farther. Not only should we be suspicious of traditional practices, but we should cast out virtually everything learned over the past two centuries! Business reengineering means putting aside much of the received wisdom of two hundred years of industrial manageBAFFLER路

175


~,.::1.

i

~~ J:!.~' ~~ IE~:a '.!!1

$

!8~ ';~G~ I;' -; .! 2 f o·

., IJ

11

l~ f ~

;;

;t

~

~ 'go) ,

8~ 1 1

~

·1-N-N:N ~~ a

1.. "O!J~ " " ,,/I 2"~ ~ tJ.j

1J~"§ 1~ ~ 8 . 0

JR.

-.., "oS"u :

.j ~ l ~

fIfe

~: ~:8

g; '0:

.' ~

:lii.l~

~

~r.

~

:i£.

~ d'~~".:a

1.

. -1

1----:/6

ly

11o'::!'

<'IF IbO Dlb

- ____

600

"hq / /h~O ,

PIe

f.f

2·2 2. I>

01}

,

o /i. eel I ,...o/"*

3. f

the J~o/ 1

1.".

""qs ~ - ..

'.

o "e,..

'(/~A

..

ment.1t meansforgettinghowworkwasdonein the age of the mass market and deciding how it can best be done now. In business reengineering, old job titles and old organizational arrangements-departments, divisions, groups, and so oncease to matter. They are artifacts of another age. In advertising, where the new has always been pursued as a sort of holy grail, these calls to break rules and smash idols are made even more stridently. George Lois, one of the industry's brightest stars since the early 1960s (responsible, among other things, for the "I Want My MlV" campaign), explained his selling strategy in 1991 in terms of ever-escalating outrage an d de filance. He describes himself reacting instinctively against established authority, challenging the conventional in every aspect of his professional life. "To push for a new solution," one of his book's sections is entided, "start by saying no to conventional rules, traditions, and trends." Advertising, being "the art of breaking rules," follows a similar rebel path. Good ads are "inventive, irreverent, audacious"; they strive for what Lois calls "the seemingly outrageous." Good advertising should "stun" the consumer, as modern art was supposed to shock, by presenting her with an idea that upends her conventions 0 f un derstand ing. Wh en Lois presents h is work to clients, he expects it to "cause my listener to rock back in semishock." In an almost Futurist passage, Lois likens good advertising to "poison gas": "It should unhinge your nervous system. It should knock you out! " On the other hand, advertising that is created according to standard textbook rules is automatically bad: "Safe, conventional work is a ticket to oblivion," Lois observes. "Talented work is, ipso focto, unconventional." As countercultural rebellion becomes corporate ideology, even the beloved Buddhism of the Beats has a place on the executive bookshelf. In The Leader as MartialArtist( 1993) Arnold Mindell, "Ph.D.," advises men ofcommerce in the wise ways of the Tao, which he compares to "surfing the edge of a turbulent wave." For the Zen businessman the world is the same wildly chaotic place of opportunity that it is for the followers ofTom Peters, although an enlightened "leader" knows how to discern the "timespirits" at work behind the scenes: Change is ... an incomprehensible, complex phenomenon; we have no way of knowing what creates change or when it is to occur .... Albert Einstein would cite the principle of nonlocality... ; C. G. Jung would speak of synchronicity, and

176 •

BAFFLER


Rupert Sheldrake of morphogenic resonance. We could just as easily call it chance, the Tao, or a miracle. In terms Peters himself might use were he a more more meditative sort of inspiration professional, Mindel! explains that "the wise facilitator" doesn't seek to prevent the inevitable and random clashes between "conflicting field spirits," but to anticipate such bouts ofdisorder and profit thereby. "Since agreement and antagonism are inevitable, the leadership position in a group should plan on being opposed or attacked," he writes. "Even a harmonious and balanced system must have a dynamic fluctuation between equilibrium and chaos ifit is to grow." So c'mon, everybody! Angst and grow rich! The American businessman is hardly the craven gray-flannel creature he is believed to have been back in the 1950s. He hasn't been for a long time. Today he decorates the walls of his office not with portraits of President Eisenhower and emblems of suburban order, but with images of extreme athletic daring, with sayings about "diversity" and "empowerment." He and his peers theorize their world not at the golf course, but in weepful corporate retreats at which he beats his tom-tom and envisions himself part of the great tradition of edge-livers, risk-takers, and ass-kickers. His world is powered not by sublimation and conformity, but by notions of "leadership" and defying the herd. And there is nothing this new enlightened species of businessman despises more than "rules" and "reason." This is a business philosophy, as the authors of Reengineering the Corporation note, that is directly descended from the antinomianism of the counterculture. "One of the t-shirt slogans of the sixties read, 'Question authority,'" they write. "Process owners might buy their reengineering team members the nineties version: 'Question assumptions.'" The new businessman quite naturally gravitates to the slogans and sensibility of the rebel 60s to express his understanding of the new Information World. He is led by vanguard capitalists like the head of the CD-ROM pioneer Voyager, a former activist whose admiration of the Shining Path, as the New York Times notes, seems somehow appropriate amidst the current "information revolution." He speaks to his comrades through commercials like the recent one for "Warp," a type of IBM computer operating system, in which an electric guitar soundtrack and psychedelic video effects surround hip executives with earrings and hairdos who are visibly stunned by the product's gnarly' tude (I t' sa" totally BAFFLER â&#x20AC;˘

177


cool way to run your computer," read the product's print ads). He understands the world through journals like Advertising Age, which illustrates the varied nature of contemporary "marketing" with a two-page array of such revolutionary items as "White guys with dreadlocks," "Tattoos," "Entertainers who only use a glyph," and "Crooners who sing with rockers." He is what sociologists Paul Leinberger and Bruce Tucker have called "The New Individualist," the new and improved manager whose arty worldview and creative hip derive directly from his formative 60s days. The one thing this new executive is definitely not is Organization Man, the hyper-rational counter of beans, attender of church, and wearer of stiff hats. In television commercials, through which the new American businessman presents his visions and self-understanding to the public, perpetual revolution and the gospel of rule-breaking are the orthodoxy of the day. You only need to watch for a few minutes before you see one of these slogans and understand the grip of antinomianism over the corporate mind: Sometimes You Gotta Break the Rules (Burger King) If You Don't Like the Rules, Change Them (WXRT-FM) The Rules Have Changed (Dodge) The Art of Changing (Swatch) There's no one way to do it. (Levi's) This is different. Different is good. (Arby's) Just Different From the Rest (Special Export beer) The Line Has Been Crossed: The Revolutionary New Supra (Toyota) Resist the Usual (the slogan of both Clash Clear Malt and Young & Rubicam-maybe they'll sue each other!) In most, the commercial message is driven home with the nowstandard iconography of the rebel: screaming guitars, whirling cameras, and startled old timers who, The Baffler predicts, will become an increasingly indispensable prop as consumers require ever-greater assurances that, Yes! You are a rebel! Just look at how offended they are! The problem with cultural dissent in America isn't that it's been co-opted, absorbed, or ripped-off. Of course it's been all of these things. But the reason it has proven so hopelessly susceptible to such assaults is the same as the reason it has become so harmless in the first place, so toothless even before Mr. Geffen's boys discover it angsting away in some bar in Lawrence, Kansas: it is no

178 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


longer any different from the official culture it's supposed to be subverting. The basic impulses of the countercultural idea, as descended from the holy Beats, are about as threatening to the new breed of antinomian businessmen as Anthony Robbins, selling success & how to achieve it on a late-night infomercial. Our businessmen imagine themselves rebels, and our rebels sound more and more like ideologists of business. Nothing better demonstrates the impoverishment and terminal irrelevance of our inherited notions of cultural dissent than the doings of former punk rocker Henry Rollins. Maker ofloutish, overbearing music and writer of high-school variety poetry, Rollins considers himself a bearer of the Beat tradition and no doubt imagines himself some SOft of postmodern Ayn Rand, introducing us to the dark, hard side of life and the wild, chaotic underpinnings of American culture. Rollins strikes all the standard alienated poses of early twentieth-century American literature: he rails against over-civilization and yearns to "disconnect." His writings and lyrics veer back and forth between vague threats towards "weak" people who "bring me down" and blustery declarations of his weighdifting ability and physical prowess. As a reward he is celebrated as a rebel without peer by such arbiters of dissident culture as the New York Times Magazine and MTV. Most telling of all is Rollins's status as pre-eminent darling of Details magazine, a sort of periodical handbook for the young executive on the rise where rebellion has achieved a perfect synthesis with corporate ideology. In 1992 Details-elevated Rollins to the status of "rock 'n' roll samurai," an "emblem ... of a new masculinity" whose "enlightened honesty" is "a way of being that seems to flesh out many of the ideas expressed in contemporary culture and fashion." Early in 1994 the magazine consummated its relationship with Rollins by naming him "Man of the Year," printing a fawning story abo u this muscular worldview and decorating its cover with a photo in which Rollins displays his tattoos and rubs his chin in a thoughtful manner. The message of the Details profiles is simple. Rollins is a role model for the struggling young businessman not only because of his music-product, but because of his excellent" self-styled identity," which he has cleverly derived from the same impeccable source that has made Japan the world-wide leader in the quality revolution: "The traditional samurai code," which "espouses the virtue of living in discipline and honor," and which has allowed both managers and consumers to "liberate ... themselves from mundane consternations that inhibit a free and fearless lifestyle."

-..~ rvUf/d- · orners H . . ere are s

"N, HAppy 1HoUOHI iVe

a POSitive . °Ple like t attn tWh 0 do bu< ere the" ~ , J ,eel t HAPpyTA ....

!r discuss 'rn YOUr Pro ers. Tellin makes the '€ peo,: ! onl rn Sad, :y buy at ~ 'IJner.

!1r, NaryOu

ers buy" s. Yo Or their r€ Ur basic ' !SPond JOb i~ to eaCh 1 prObl cu erns in 1 feelg/ a Wi ad_

AND ElltmON

gic and e

Istorne~ rnotion t( 's to b s. Ernotion but I

SOld

ur.

ogic and co,... "'lngb.

'II IIAD To BlAD m,

:O/Ving to ad, Sad

e W~ .'

~c.. BAFFLER •

179


1l!:J./p

.~ &o:tr.

lJv/V"<1ct':; .(.,Oq,Q

"%96

~

"'$~ .'l'r;,

~

"'ao"

~

l'r;,~

~ ~Oll<q

Ol •

.(~

,¥:>::~~~d",o,p~ ~~ p~. ::;:s;,,,,:r;::.,,,. IO","'~:~JO .~o.::'" ~::~ '

..... "'<r>."!p."'>q,I¢s

~

.J.s~ ~ ~ ~ v

~

~

~ 11

.3 b.o.:.

>.,

S g -U ~

E::1 ....~ ~O 'li ~

l• 'fi ~ i ~ '. ~ 8.§1 ~ g, ~ ~ ~ "0. gc/J ZEJ ~o ~ ~ : .8 ~ ~ S. ~ g; .~ :; . ~ J, '; Q)

b.o"tl "t:I

til

tI)

:;

t

f -S ~ ~ 't1

~.

~ ..s ~ Q, ·0 ifI. g IlO ci. ~ ~

~'J ~ ~

-< _

.;1

~ "

180 •

BAFFLER

Rollins's philosophy is described by Details in terms normally reserved for the breast-beating and soul-searching variety of motivational seminars: "Rather than lapse into anger, which isolates everyone, or retreat into ironic detachment-the easiest way for the incomplete to feel whole," the magazine dribbles, "-he triumphs over both, and the fruits of his triumph are the ability to engage the world without denying his needs." Although he derives it from the ascetic wisdom of the East rather than the unfashionable doctrines of Calvin, Rollins's rebel posture is identical to that fabled ethic of the small capitalist whose regimen of positive thinking and hard work will one day payoff. Details describes one ofRollins' s songs, quite seriously, as "a self-motivational superforce, an anthem of empowerment," teaching lessons that any aspiring middle-manager must internalize. Elsewhere Iggy Pop, that great chronicler of the ambitionless life, praises Rollins as a "high achiever" who "wants to go somewhere." Rollins himself even seems to invite such an interpretation. His recent spoken-word account of touring with Black Flag, delivered in an unrelenting two-hour drill-instructor staccato, begins with the timeless bourgeois story of opportunity taken, of young Henry leaving the security of a "straight job," enlisting with a group of visionaries who were "the hardest working people I have ever seen," and learning "what hard work is all about." In the liner notes he speaks proudly of his Deming-esque dedication to quality, of how his bandmates "Delivered under pressure at incredible odds." When describing his relationship with his parents for the readers of Details, Rollins quickly cuts to the critical matter, the results that such dedication has brought: "Mom, Dad, I outgross both of you put together," a happy observation he repeats in his interview with the New York Times Magazine. Despite the extreme hostility of punk rockers with which Rollins had to contend all through the 1980s, it is he (rather than a less hated figure like, say, Greg Sage) who has been chosen as the godfather of rock en' roll revolt. It is not difficult to see why. For Rollins the punk rock decade was but a lengthy seminar on lead~rs?ip skills, thriving on chaos, .and total quality management. Rollms s much-celebrated anger IS the anger of the frustrated junior executive who finds obstacles on the way to the top. His discipline and determination are the automatic catechism of any small entrepreneur who's just finished brainwashing himself with the latest leadership and positive-thinking tracts; his poetry is the inspired verse of 21 Days to Unlimited Power or Let's Get Results,


Not Excuses. Henry Rollins is no more a threat to established power ,f!! ' in America than was Dale Carnegie. And yet Rollins as king of the ~;;!fj rebels-peerless and ultimate-is the message hammered home ~ I..; ~ wherever photos of his growling visage appears. If you're unhappy ':: ~ :;; :; with your lot, the Culture Trust tells us with each Rollins tale, if ! ~ ~ :;; you feel you must rebel, take your cue from the most disgruntled £1 q guy of all: lift weights! work hard! meditate in your back yard! root ct1 ~ [ ; out the weaknesses deep down inside yourself! But whatever you ~ 'S fiJ do, don't think about who controls power or how it is wielded. ;:g § t ctJ ~

l

§

e

E

~

§.s

~

c:

,ll }

~_

.ffQj e (J.

The structure and thinking ofAmerican business have changed ...., CJ enormously in the years since our popular conceptions of its problems and abuses were formulated. In the meantime the mad ~ (l) .... ::: frothings and jolly apolitical revolt of Beat, despite their vast I 9.~. ~ popularity and insurgent air, have become powerless against a new ~..::::. Q regime that, one suspects, few of Beat's present-day admirers and S & practitioners feel any desire to study or understand. For today that f:/ "0 '/ beautiful countercultural idea, endorsed now by everyone from §~ the surviving Beats to shampoo manufacturers, is more the official :;; ~ tf doctrine of corporate America than it is a program of resistance. ~ ",..8 ~ 8 What we understand as "dissent" does not subvert, does not If"fj ~ challenge, does not even question the cultural faiths of Western ...., ~ ~ ~ business. What Philip Rieffwrote of the revolutionary pretentions of multiculturalism is _ _- . . . equally true of the

;;.-:g

-9

;.<.J

'S:5 g.. i 'G' ;; 8. Gs

,;"tl

'ill!!

countercultural idea:

"The more one reads in academic multiculturalist journals and in business publications, and the more one contrasts the speeches ofCEOs and the speeches of noted m ul ticul turalist academics, the more one is struck by the similarities in the way they view the world." What's happened is not co-optation or appropriation, but a simple and direct confluence of interest. BAFFLER·

181


O<'it1led

The people who staff the Combine aren'tlike Nurse Ratched. They aren't Frank Burns, they aren'tthe Church Lady, they aren't Was qlJ.iet Dean Wormer from AnimalHouse, they aren't those repressed old bl, two folks in the commercials who want to ban Tropicana Fruit ~ °Od P a, Twisters. They're hipper than you can ever hope to be because hip , bOdy 0lJ.] is their official ideology, and they're always going to be there at the er. 01]slJ.~ ~ poetry reading to encourage your 'rebellion' with a hearty "right lJ.s "J..~~ on, man!" before you even know they're in the auditorium. You '1 .J~ ~~ t'/ can't outrun them, or even stay ahead of them for very long: it's , ~ ~ ~ their racetrack, and that's them waiting at the finish line to ~ ~.t.~~~ congratuIate you on how outrageous your new styIe is, on how you ..V. ~'~ ~. ~ • ~ 'l( shocked those stuffy prudes out in the heartland. ~~~ ~\, «9~ And if you really feel that rebel urge, if you really want to . ~ 1~ 1; ~~~_ "break the rules," get yourself down to Decatur, Illinois, where the ~ <lQ t. ~ ~ ~~ 'idea of social democracy is slowly being done to death. But be 'I! 't> «9~ ~ J; ~ ~. ;:So' ~ prepare d to not see yourse If on any TV, no matter h ow ".mterac~ ~(9 ~ ~' tive" it is. 01]

a

-'t

bq (

a;

{\1\(f %

O~\l'~ ~~'?o, ~,.., Q' ~Q' ~ ~f <0 J. <:-

,~&~4'~~ 'c 1. ~ «9 PQ ~/ ~ Q' 't «>'"11; 2 Ch -?~ 'I I, .,. (}.r1o, ' '. '~ I'~. ~

("

:" ...,;IJj.f<l:".,)~

~l:'<> ! ~k "'",~., ~ ~ ~:' ".; .b"", ~'" ; II. ~'"s ~ o~ I'

7", ~

,.",/~

.. ,"0 \;)

~

~;

"<

" "'Who ~~ ~ .: " .., 9> u~ 0.... "0

~~ ;,.4, ~""'-.4·

l~ °9.f' ""':/~ -"Yc,;; .",:!~ ;,;,'Ib".<?~""'os

: ~:. "·~'-I;o4·9,,,o , ~.~4, /> ~s"·O"'~·, •h:O"" ~~, ,o~. 7c

!'.t.

• Yo' ..

'~o!}",~

<k "'0-"0"

,,~ "4,/

1/<1: "~"·9

~ . .?j:J-a~~,ts "to-.""'IJ ,~

4"'",'00"1

""/~ 0"

':; ~o-~~, :'0;4 ","'l>~

0/ ~ ~~/~~ h lJ.JlJ.St?~( '0 eads, a~d '1]8 th alJd t e 8r J

a 'h ook l 1er~ eJJ--hOJe t es a

, S 'Whi 'h res )?lJd l~'" Pat,

182 •

BAFFLER

III Zomething Apocalyptic: The Culture ofForgetting "Temporal bandwidth" is the width of your present, your now. It is the familiar "At" considered as a dependent variable. The more you dwell in the past and in the future, the thicker your bandwidth, the more solid your persona. But the narrower your sense of Now, the more tenuous you are. It may get to where you're having trouble remembering what you were doing five minutes ago, or even-as Slothrop nowwhat you're doing here, at the base of this colossal curved embankment .... -Thomas Pynchon, Gravitys Rainbow

Even in the shallowest public forums American cultural commentators now seem to realize that we are living through what may be the most dislocating period in a hundred years. Everyone recognizes, ifonly dimly, that the old comfortable world is yielding to a new order, an Information Age in which our thoughts (brand loyalties) and dreams (brand aspirations) are as economically important as our labor once was. The rise of the Culture Trust is just its most objectionable public feature; on a different level it signals a shift that is at once cataclysmic and unnoticeable, an economic change that deletes our ability to understand economic change. The cultural victory of business is more than a simple


matter of biased news broadcasts, an easily-made case of factual misrepresentation: with the consolidation of the Information Age culture itself-the fables and myths and ideas built up over the centuries through a million varieties of experience, suffering, and struggle-has become the province of business. As Neil Postman observes, "Twenty years ago, the question, Does television shape culture or merely reflect it? held considerable interest for many scholars and social critics. The question has largely disappeared as television has gradually become our culture." And through the miraculous intercession of the glowing box, business culture has become human culture; brand identity and the ravings of thinkers like Tom Peters have effaced in a brilliant electronic flash the labor of thousands of years. While they might carp sadly at its fringes, few critics have begun-or desire-to comprehend the full magnitude of this change or to explore the vast implications of this transfer of cultural power. Only the most unabashed partisans ofbusiness supremacy are willing to boast openly about the deed they have done, to speak the C h name of the great roe w ose vanquishing now permits Western consumerism to stride the globe unchecked. Francis Fukuyama, the right's favorite pre-Limbaugh" intellectual," put it most plainly in a famous 1989 essay: business has ended history. Not just in the Hegelian sense, the simple victory dance over the corpse of the Soviet Union which was the essay's primary purpose, but in a philosophical way as well. While America's arms expenditures triumphed over the Red Menace, its comfortable consumer banalities triumphed everywhere over local and inherited culture, language, and ideas, literally ended people's ability to think historically. Alleluia! (as Senator Danforth would say) The visibility of Western consumer goods throughout the world signals the cr success 0 f what Fu kuyama hat'1s as the com b'me d W estern errort "to create a truly universal consumer culture that has become both a symbol and an underpinning of the universal homogenous state." "Universal homogenous!" Glorious thing! And while Fukuyama readily admits that "The End of History" does not mean that all economic and social conflict has been resolved, that universal capitalism means universal happiness, he gloats that without the faculty of cultural memory our unhappiness, however grinding, just doesn't matter: people can no longer think about their social position in a manner that might lead to conflict, that might threaten Western business interests. Americans have always been somewhat hostile to history.

. n ,,-uv form at10 . ers anc ~uds.~~ual con ln ~hiC metM ~lY relied Ul recent \g. One Lr Jalues And f ; bUyers into . types: "a!! "b~anc .. ~ ...0Wl': lI\~rs""" "e_~;Ne~ ':hoP ~ful : ; of the ;e l~invOlV'ed" I S~g, liberallY.: :ok to spend hi: These money.. lY tl most hke .1 "bal: & ", ~-. fr ."ub ...

l a

!

~

t

bl ~S· ~ ~~....... ~~

.~

~

~.

~

~"t ~

fr

~

S

,

~

" fr

§'~ r-,~ S'~ ~ ~~ ~~ . "" ~•I'b ~.

':c::t;:,,'

~-..:... r:;::'

.~. •

,1(\

a

-r.heir se . -or

H~ Ra.g' b

! Iii ~.g ~! 5,'

'5 '5

.e/.!J

"'in. '" :a'iJ!f. 1i!J

"j II

....-8 u§ ·flo

0,," t;

1I a ..; 1I 11

Ii

fl

1~;E!;g1li!

N~ '91 ~ l1.!:/'

f ~ ~ '" 'It '8.!!of

r.B':; !~~1'8 }X-;:~ ~'i .g frY i 1- '& .!!oZ ."

~~

BAFFLER·

183


Visiting the new country in the mid-nineteenth century, Alexis de T ocqueville was deeply moved by its wilful rejection of the class rankings and tastes of the European past, by the settlers' tendency to forget the Old World and to abandon the ways of the countless generations before them. Casting off the dead weight of the ages has always been a favorite conceit of American writers less frightened by democracy than was the aristocratic de Tocqueville: deracination has in many ways been the centerpiece of the nation's self-understanding. The golden fable ofopportunity-ofan empty land where anyone could, like Jay Gatsby, remake himself unhindered by the artificial constraints of civilization-is, after all, the basic theme in the great American stories of immigration and western expansion. Even our atrocities obeyed this primal cultural impulse, this imperative to forget: slavery demanded a cultural uprooting of those who did not come to the New World willingly. But by and large our literature praises the power of the melting pot, celebrates the democracy of the frontier, sings the glories of getting out of the Old and into the Cold. For American business, this suspicion of history is a longstanding article of faith. In the frequent denunciations of The Past voiced by the great Captains ofIndustry one finds not mere assimilationist longings, but profound disdain for any entangling traditions that could interfere with efficiency and restrict the absolute freedom of every individual to pillage every other individual. Henry Ford's famous ourburst, "history is bunk," was a statement of fundamental business ideology, not merely a response to an immediate annoyance. According to the great capitalists' "practical" worldview, as Richard Hofstadter has noted, "The past was seen as despicably impractical and uninventive, simply and solely as something to be surmounted." In its quest for efficiency, the pre-Information business" community" set itselfagainst the peculiar and backwardlooking ways of tradition and human particularity in almost every way it could. Its hated time-motion studies aimed to suppress factory workers' humanity, transforming them into efficiencymaximized robots like the hapless line worker in Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times. Its glass-and-steel office towers were soulless ma<, chines for the paper-shuffling labor of its Organization Men,

184 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


stripped of any concessions to human tastes and comfort; its ~ til·p .~ (j) ~ 1"'\ ~ Q) III ~ ( suburbs and tenements sterile boxes for the propagation of obedi- ? ~ ~.o--\ c.> o'P Q) ent underlings. 7> Q) III Q) P Alongside the hyper-rational, hyper-efficient Organization <&-B 'B {, 'B envisioned by America's premier managers there also developed an ~ "0 'C". ~ emotional and religious conception of business practice, a cult of () III r;' Positive Thinking that was even more hostile to cultural memory (I) -% '¥>):;IIlc.> than was the dominant cult of Efficiency. In the writing of the .~ ~ ~ ~ Postive Thinkers anti-historicism reached a new plateau ofsop his- ~ ~ ~"'6~ tication: the annoyances of history and cultural particulariry were;? ~ ~ '9. not just to be over-paved, but levelled, reduced to a convenient ~ .v H flatness where every epoch was exactly like the present as far back'btl ~:;:. ~ ~ ~q,', as the eye could see. The economic struggle ofdaily life was and had ~'(I)",a ~ always been a matter of individual men and God, a question of just ~ ~ ~ Q) 'oJ how positively each up-and-coming entrepreneur could think,just ~ c.P.v ~ ~ how blindly he could pursue success. The cold statistics of the ~~ ~~ bureaucrats were ultimately insignificant, nor did social class or 't. ~.:o ~, o Q) ~ ~. local economic conditions really matter: all you needed to succeed '!t! ~ ~ /:'"'f ( was a salesman's disposition and an open-faced readiness to work. ~.Q) 8:{J if 8. All human history-and especially the doings of its big figures, ~ t.;>.11 tJ & ~ tn .... 0favorites like Lincoln, Charlemagne, and Joan of Arc-could be... ~ If' 0 § i understood as parables forthe struggling executive of the twentieth r:; .& .~ century. The best known tract in this tradition, adman Bruce g- ff Barton's 1925 book The Man Nobody Knows, examined the life of f'aQ. i B: ~ Jesus and distilled it down to a series of lessons in leadership, f:l.:::t c sociability, and the wisdom of teams. "They call it the 'spirit of ~ (b"l modern business'; they suppose ... that it is something very new," . fi, . C;;> ~. Barton wrote. "Jesus preached it more than nineteen hundred years ago." Theories of Efficiency may have wilfully ignored :;,!}.. t?history, but Positive Thinking went them one better: for its 't7!ld believers the past was fundamentally identical to the now. Capital- • _ fJ. f:;-: ~. ism is the immutable way of God and nature, the unchanging ~ § !f. f1f' M condition of mankind. To wonder how things ever got to the sorry r Q. ("). 8' ~ J state they were was to engage in idle and even counter-productive 'cf § ~ ~ ';:; conjecture (the social utiliry of such a doctrine becomes obvious ~'eI& g when the economic facts of its heyday-the ugly depression of the ~ S i I{j 1930s-are taken into consideration): sociery never developed or fJ, f:l.15," S. gchanged, it simply produced a series of interesting executives and ;; f2: leaders from whose exploits we might learn a thing or two. 1 ~ & f.i. r,; 't1 ':s: r:: With the coming of the Age ofInformation this anti-his tori- ~ {; .8;:;:' cism reaches its logical end, the simple credo of the Positive ~ ~ 8' Thinkers having blossomed into a full-blown secular philosophy '.~

lIle

·t '0';

to

S I

sf!

f

eiF

fi

B

.g

{}.r

l

g!J ;;: 1:

9

-1

f:;: f

&:

S : g.

f!1 c

C

t/

BAFFLER·

0

185


of economic antinomianism. Cause and effect is a meaningless illusion, the new business thinkers argue, for the Information Age is an "Age of Unreason," of instant, world-wide change and constant flux. Management theorists like Tom Peters insist that the world is mad, spinning chaotically out of control, and to remain profitable businessmen must become mad themselves, immersed totally in the present and intentionally ignorant of whatever developments have put us where we are. Never have a ruling class attacked the faculty of cultural memoty as fiercely as in the theoretical handbooks of the Information Age: "How people and companies did things yesterday doesn't matter to the business reengineer," write the authors of 1994's ubiquitous management text, Reengineering the Corporation. The hero of the Information Age, according to its authors, is the businessman who is able to violate most violently, to separate himself most completely from both his own and his company's past-to forget. The virtue of forgetting is the book's essential message: its dust jacket carries this enticing legend: "Forget what you know about how business should work-most of it is wrong!" With total seriousness its authors recommend that businessmen adopt an epistemology of constant forgetting, ofpositive militancy against cultural memory. "At the heart of business reengineering," they write, "lies the notion of discontinuous thinking--idenrifying and abandoning the outdated rules and fundamental assumptions that underlie current business operations." Unlike his Organization predecessors, who merely wanted to destroy annoying obstacles to efficiency like city blocks and the sleeping habits oflaborers, the antinomian Information businessman dreams of what Russell Jacoby once called "social amnesia," a collective inability to recall who did what yesterday, never mind last year or last century. Overflying in glorious slow-mo a hundred ancient cultures in a day, travelling always in classic rock soundtracked "Executive Class" lugzhury, the Information businessman-bold knight of unreason-seems to have attained that exalted state which postmodern theorists used to imagine themselves inhabiting alone. Freed from the gravitational pull of worldly history he floats deliriously on a rushing stream ofdetatched signifiers, the flotsam and jetsam of centuries of civilization become just so many shiny trinkets floating meaninglessly by, so many treats placed randomly on his tray table before he stows it safely away in upright and locked position. In advertising, the flower of the Information Age, social


amnesia is the pitch of the century, the great cultural dynamo of the new, the always-handy device by which even the most senseless products can be made to seem desirable and by which that gorgeously automatic disdain for the products of the past can be instantly summoned. But scoffing at the old just isn't enough anymore: reasoning itself, Madison Avenue now instructs us, is a stupid and backward thing, the pastime of oldsters who wear their trousers up around their armpits. The stuff for us is rule-breaking, perpetual rebellion against any attitude that might keep you from Crossing the Border, that might problematize your enjoyment of the the undulating and seamless drama of defiant cars and tie-dye fruit drinks , that might keep you from changing lifestyles just as . d f "Whyas k w.hy, " we are SOO? as y,?U get tl~e ,,0 your cur~ent on~. adVised. Just do it. (Hey! That s so mmdlessly cool, it could be the motto for our twenty-something fakezine!) But the big prize for social amnesia has to go to the disgusting campaign for something called "OK Soda," with its idiot "coincidences" and pre-fab Gen-X cynico-cred: "Don't be fooled into thinking there has to be a reason for everything," reads the legend on cans of the loathesome liquid ..For OK Soda, as. for virtu~ly ev~ry other product around whiCh we make our lives, there IS obViously no "reason" other than the glittering logic of the marketplace. The constant flux that supports us all, consumerism's endless piling of new upon new, can be bound by no tradition, reason, language, or order other than the simple mandates of ceaseless, directionless

~e;;~e th::

i~

â&#x20AC;˘

"j~

Il y t:;tilJel's bU!J( ¡ther; t~t bu;d I ~ear'01d2~k. ,t, ~eetor; de;it, Dc

eM~aditio:1?e( "w~~ aetil1i~;y c '01' th:se~teh h . ~ts. " lV~bl!1n.a ~ '0:::"ade~~Ot7h l !al'e~e,. Dew~ l~e. 'lInd ' I's ~g C:0ns lea ted' t

atl on ~el's 01 :

~se~e~?ath~

n'f;: ~e~ .

DSit/)1' ~ 10n:~~. ~ig]J0J;ing thei ~hiea;~ in S

')t~i th~ 2~:Use,

~1';ns .to kh to ~ d01f line Dea;ll tl'an:~ l?ledia a; tead o/~OStel's ~ e _ ,,_ . e l',,_0/ ~~ing

%b


rebellion and change. Turn from the business and "lifestyle" pages of your newspaper-all stars truck and dewy-eyed about the glorious lOO-channel lifestyles of the future-to the think section, and you can watch the cultural progress of the Information Age: puzzled journalists note the appearance of an "anxious class," unemployed workers from a number of different industries made redundant by the latest developments in international finance. However obvious the causes of their predicament may be to the observer-in this case, Louis Uchitelle of the New York Time.r-this new disenfranchised class steadfastly refuses to acknowledge them. "While Americans are increasingly angry about their economic insecurity," Uchitelle writes, "neither business nor the forces that make companies so hard on workers are the targets of this anger. It is directed instead at government, immigrants and the poor, among others." This is class consciousness for a new century, human subjectivity tailormade for the needs of business. The system's economic casualties cannot for the life of them figure out how they have been done, or by whom. Capital smugly enjoys the cultural proceeds, getting it both ways now: workers have truly become "human resources," fully disposable and yet ready and willing to turn their anger to the great project of making business even more powerful than it already is. You fire them, and they turn around and vote for your chosen politicians, who make it easier for you to fire even more of them. Among media decision-makers themselves the curtailment of our historical attention span is assumed quite matter-of-factly, with what one imagines is a fair amount of pride, to be an accomlished fact. Thus the convention on 'objective' news programs of discussing events of last week or a few months ago as though they were dim memories of the distant, unenlightened past: mentions ofIraq must be prefaced by the reminder that the US was at war with that nation a few years ago; news from Somalia must begin by informing us that, quite recently, this country was occupied by American soldiers. Otherwise, it is understood, we just wouldn't remember: naturally we' re too caught up in whatever the current patriotic frenzy is to recall those of the recent past. If we're lucky the logistical problems associated with this need to constantly remind viewers of what was once common knowledge may one day expand to the point where TV news becomes impossible altogether, with almost all of the 45-minute program devoted to telling us what country we live in, that other cities and nations exist, who our elected officials are, and so on. The only

188 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


thing that will never require explaining, of course, is the glowing box itself, the central position it occupies in our dwellings, and the reasons why we come back to stare at it, day after day. No effective challenge to the rule of business can be mounted without solid grounding in precisely the sort of cultural memory that Information Capitalism, with its supersonic yuppie pannationalism and its worship of the instantaneous, has set itself out to destroy. Without memory we can scarcely understand our present-what strange forces in the dim past caused this agglomeration of seven million unhappy persons to be deposited here in the middle of a vast continent, clinging to the shores of this mysteriously polluted lake?-much less begin to confront the systematic depredations of the system that has made our lives so miserable. In contrast to American business's insistent denial of pastness, Richard Hofstadter continues, In Europe there has always existed a strong counter-tradition, both romantic and moralistic, against the ugliness of industrialism-a tradition carried on by figures as diverse as Goethe and Blake, Morris and Carlyle, Hugo and Chateaubriand, Ruskin and Scott. Such men counterposed to the machine a passion for language and locality, for antiquities and monuments, for natural beauty; they sustained a tradition of resistance to capitalist industrialism, of skepticism about the human consequences of industrial progress, of moral, esthetic, and humane revolt.

o~'(J V ...~.1 .,..-

"~j:~ .â&#x20AC;˘ ~

;*t

. ''''

ths powsrf ;hat's irrs! J/ev/sion's portent au s!usivs18.

you nEl8c/ tl businsss. ~ and csptuJ

on end IOYI ,iI/ions Who Jrnewprod

css on ths 'f

New.

Without an understanding of particularity, of the economic constructedness of our lives, this kind ofcritical consciousness becomes impossible. All we can know is our own individual discomfort, our vague hankering for something else-an 'else' that can be easily defined away as a different product choice, a new lifestyle, a can of Sprite anti-soda, or a little rule-breaking at Burger King. This century's technological advances are often described as victories over the primal facts of nature: hunger, cold, disease, distance, and time. But the wiring of every individual into the warm embrace of the multinational entertainment oligopoly is a conquest of a different sort, the crowning triumph of the marketplace over humanity's unruly consciousness. The fact that the struggle has been a particularly long one-"timeless," even, is how it's referred to on dust jackets immemorial--does not alter the fact that business authorities seem to be on the verge of a spectacular BAFFLER â&#x20AC;˘

189


and final victory. It is fitting that, as this century of horrors draws to a close, our masters rush to perfect the cultural equivalent of the atom bomb, to destroy once and for all our ability to appreciate horror. With no leader but the "invisible hand," with no elite but the mild and platitudinous Babbittry of the American hinterland, Western capitalism will soon accomplish what the century's more murderous tyrants, with all their poisonous calculation, could only dream of doing: effacing the cultural memory of entire nations. For there is no tradition, religion, or language to which business owes any allegiance greater than momentary convenience; nor does any tradition, religion, or language remain that can muster a serious challenge to its cultural authority. As Philip Rieff demonstrated so presciently last year, it is capitalism, not angry workers, unhappy youth, or impoverished colonial peoples, that is "the bull in the china shop of human history. The market economy, now global in scale, is by its nature corrosive of all established hierarchies and certainties .... " When the twentieth century opened business was only one power among many, economically and culturally speaking, a dangerously expansive but more or less contained participant in a larger social framework. While it might mistreat workers, break unions, bribe editors, and buy congressmen, its larger claims and authoritywere limited by an array ofcountervailing powers. It does not require a rosy sentimental view of any past period to recognize that today there are no such countervailing forces. Not only is labor a toothless ghost, seemingly capable only of slowing its own demise, but there is no cultutal power on earth-save maybe the quixotic imagination of each isolated "reader" of the corporate

190 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER


text*-that can stand independent from or intrude upon the smooth operation of capital. With its advanced poststructuralist powertrain, its six-barrel rock "n' roll assimilator, and its turbocharged fiber-optic speed, multinational capital is able to run cultural circles around our ponderous old notions of democracy, leaving us no imaginable means through which the culture of business might be resisted, no vantage point from which "the public" might be addressed, no possible permutation of written English that might have an effect on the way people live, not even any way to address the subject without lapsing into cliche. It's night in America, and we can feel ourselves slipping into a sleep from which we can't imagine ever waking. Meanwhile the last twenty years have brought a palpable undoing of the American fabric, a physical and social decay so unspeakably vast, so enormously obscene that we can no longer gauge the destruction with words. We all know this: there it is every night on lV, there it is as you drive through the South Side on your way to work (thank God for the virtual office!). And yet it matters nothing, because we don't live in that America anymore: our home, as Jean Baudrillard snickered years ago, is literally the lV, the interactive wonder, the simulation that is so much more exciting, fulfilling, and convenient than any possible permutation of physical reality. We can do nothing but watch the world crumble because, our collective imagination being as much a construct of business necessity as the government's various trade agreemen ts, we cannot imagine it being any other way. La Follette? Debs? IWW? That's a different world. When wesay"ThirdParty," we mean a third business party. Out here in the great flyover, ground zero of the Information Revolution, you can flel the world dissolving, everything from the hard verities of the industrial past to the urban geography beginning to melt away in the pale blue CRT fog. Our archetypes and ideas and visions and memories, the accumulation ofcenturies, are yielding as easily to corporate re-engineering as has our landscape, built and torn down and renamed and reshuffled, everything forgotten instantly and relegated overnight to the quaint land of

~"'jlIIvO'IJ~

IZ 'J ~r搂. ~ & 1c,e:,~ ~~

, ~N\S.I[

r- ~

~

-:-c c:

I

~ !

rT'

>'

(")

~ ~ ~

~ i ~

r--

.....

(t)

(t)

CI>

~ ~ ~ ~"\~

'

c::

.

~ '0

~

CI>

,

'&:.~ ~ \.

l

c. r,

(t)

.

rf.~ * Fukuyama's dismissal of Cultural Studies' basic argument about ,~v~~ ~

reception of Western culture products is significant: "For our purposes, it matters very little what strange thoughts occur to people in Albania or Burkina Faso .... " Not being "embodied in important social or political forces and movements," they just aren't "parr of world history."

~~ CI>

~~

~~. ~

JW:

BAFFLER路

CI>

191

1 I


sepia-tint. This year we'll live in beautiful Passiondale, just down the road from Cambryestates. Nextyearthe noise and mud aren't so charming; wreckitdown and move to a new box in a better fortified enclave: meaningless upon meaningless, stretching out across the infinitely malleable Illinois prairie, idiot fantasy after idiot fantasy tracing a senseless diagram of human gullibility and iron corporate will. Even while we are happily dazed by the mall's panoply of choice, exhorted to indulge Out taste for breaking rules, and deluged with all manner of useful "information," our collective mental universe is being radically circumscribed, enclosed within the tightest parameters of all time. In the third millennium there is to be no myth but the business myth, no individuality but the thirty or so professionally-accepted psychographic market niches, no diversity but the happy heteroglossia of the sitcom, no rebellion but the pre-programmed search for new kicks. Denunciation is becoming impossible: we will be able to achieve no distance from business culture since we will no longer have a life, a history, a consciousness apart from it. It is making itself unspeakable, too big, too obvious, too vast, too horrifYing, too much of a cliche to even begin addressing. A matter-of-fact disaster, like Rwanda, as natural as the supermarket, as resist-able as air. It is putting itself beyond our power ofimagining because it has become our imagination, it has become our power to envision, and describe, and theorize, and resist.

from the country that brought you rock 'n' roll

192 â&#x20AC;˘

BAFFLER

No6  
Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you